Home Office buys marquees to house migrants ahead of expected surge in Channel crossings

todayAugust 11, 2023 2

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Home Office buys marquees to house migrants ahead of expected surge in Channel crossings

The home secretary’s plans to accommodate thousands of migrants in marquees at disused military sites have been criticised as “staggering” and “cruel” by a leading refugee charity.

The tents will start to be erected over the coming weeks as part of emergency plans to deal with an expected surge of Channel crossings over the next few months.

The plan is part of Ms Braverman’s mission to end the reliance on housing asylum seekers in hotels, which is costing the taxpayer around £6m a day.

A source from the Home Office confirmed to Sky News that the tents could be up and running to house migrants within weeks.

But Tim Nao Hilton, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said it was “staggering” that Ms Braverman was proceeding with the plans, after it was reported in the Times that one government source had likened it to using concentration camps.

“The winners from this cruel plan will be the Home Office’s asylum housing contractors, who trouser tens of millions of pounds in taxpayer-subsidised profits as standards continue to plummet,” he said.

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“This is yet another way the government has developed to demonise people seeking asylum, which is rooted in its deeply racist approach to refugee protection.

“It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that people who have fled violence, torture and persecution have their claims assessed quickly and justly and are housed in safe homes in our communities.”

Community volunteer Mohammed Fahim said the migrants were being treated like “second-class citizens” adding: “Let’s treat them as human beings rather than treating them as animals.”


‘Let’s treat them as a human beings’

However, one asylum seeker who journeyed from Eritrea and was staying in a hotel in the Midlands offered a different perspective.

Speaking to Sky News, Jossy said he would “still have come” to the UK even if the prospect was to be housed in a tent.

He added that his current accommodation was “very nice [since] we compare things from here and our country”.

Jossy - Asylum seeker tents piece

‘This accommodation is very nice for us’


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The charity’s criticism comes after the High Court ruled that the “routine” housing of unaccompanied child asylum seekers in hotels by the Home Office was unlawful.

According to The Times, which first reported on the plan for marquees, Border Force is predicting that the next three months will be the busiest time for the small boat journeys in a repeat of last year.

A Home Office source told the newspaper: “It’s obvious we can’t again be in a position where we’re having to spot-book expensive hotels on the fly for migrants.

“There’s nothing wrong with this kind of temporary accommodation when needed. Other countries do use it as well.”

A government spokesperson told Sky News: “We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6m a day.

“We continue to work across government and with local authorities to look at a range of accommodation options.

“Accommodation offered to asylum seekers, on a no choice basis, meets our legal and contractual requirements.”

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What’s it like onboard the Bibby Stockholm

The Labour Party was also asked whether it would continue to use hotels or whether it would consider using marquees like the Home Office.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the party wanted to “end hotel use” and that “we shouldn’t need to use all of these additional things”.

“We’ve got to get the [asylum] backlog down,” she said. “That’s why we’ve set before these proposals, we’ve set out a five point plan.”

This is not the first time the government has used marquees to house asylum seekers – several were erected at the Manston processing centre last autumn to deal with a surge of arrivals.

The tents are part of a wider strategy to seeking out new accommodation for asylum seekers to reduce the hotel bill to house them.

A hotel set to house up to 241 asylum seekers in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, was granted a High Court injunction on Thursday to curb protests.

It comes after Carmarthenshire County Council lost its own High Court injunction bid on 7 July to temporarily halt the plans.

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On Tuesday, the first asylum seekers are set to move on to the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge, a Whitehall source told Sky News.

An initial 50 single men are set to be moved on board the vessel that is docked in Portland Port in Dorset, with that number expected to rise to 500 in the coming months.

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Asylum seekers on their experience inside hotels waiting to be processed.

A record backlog and thousands of people making unauthorised crossings of the Channel have strained the system as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak battles to “stop the boats”.

Read more:
Arrival of first asylum seekers on Bibby Stockholm barge delayed
Cruise ships set to house asylum seekers in Liverpool and Edinburgh sent back to owners

But refugee charities have said the use of such sites is damaging to the needs of vulnerable people, and also raised concerns for migrants’ safety.

Conservative MPs representing areas where the facilities are being established have also been worried about how local services in their constituencies will be impacted, such as police and healthcare.

A month behind schedule after undergoing repairs, the Bibby Stockholm was met by protesters as it arrived in Portland Port on Tuesday last week.

Some residents have raised concerns for their safety on the island with a population of around 13,000 and argued that it does not have the infrastructure to provide for the newcomers and those already there.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Bibby Stockholm has completed a statutory inspection and refurbishment and is now berthing in Portland.

“The welfare of those in our care is of the utmost priority and the barge is now undergoing final preparations to ensure it complies with all appropriate regulations before the arrival of the first asylum seekers in the coming weeks.”

Written by: Newsroom

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