Braverman dismisses recommendations of asylum inquiry that took 2 years
The Home Affairs Committee blames the Home Office for the crisis. The home secretary rejected all its suggestions
Suella Braverman has refused to accept the findings of a report by cross-party MPs that found internal failings rather than a rise in migrants crossing the Channel are to blame for the breakdown of the asylum system.
The Home Affairs Committee said the government had today rejected all the recommendations it made in a damning report published in July following a two-year inquiry into the small boats crisis.
The report concluded that the government’s response to the crisis has been “characterised first by inattention and then by poor decision-making” and dismissed the previous home secretary Priti Patel’s claim that the asylum system is collapsing because of “the various strains, abuses, sheer numbers coming to this country”.
Instead, MPs found that increasing pressures on the system were a result of the “poor resourcing, by successive governments, of staff and technology in the Asylum Operations function in the Home Office”. As a result, the backlog in asylum cases that are ‘work in progress’ has grown to 117,000 in June, more than double what it was in 2014.
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MPs criticised the Home Office’s “glacial pace of decision-making” with children having to wait an average of 550 days for a decision on their asylum application and adults 449 days. More than 3,000 unaccompanied children have been housed in hotels that provide no medical assistance on site since last October, a separate report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration found this month.
No substantial increase
The committee said demand had not substantially increased, pointing out that there were 48,450 asylum applications in 2021, “a number broadly similar to those in each year from 2014, apart from a fall during the pandemic, and far less than in the early 2000s”.
Instead, MPs found that increasing pressures on the system were a result of the “poor resourcing, by successive governments, of staff and technology in the Asylum Operations function in the Home Office”, resulting in its backlog of cases that are ‘work in progress’ more than doubling since 2014.
The committee’s report, which was published in July, found that antiquated IT systems, high staff turnover and too few staff are to blame for the growing backlog.
It gave the example of Home Office staff having to manually update asylum case details in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with over 100 columns – despite it being “very time-consuming”, and despite the “tendency” of the document to crash due to its size.
MPs said that addressing the backlog of asylum cases must be the Home Office’s “highest priority” and that doing so “would unlock substantial resources, reduce current pressures on contingency and institutional accommodation and enable wider system reform”.
The government rejected the recommendation in its response published today and said instead that its “highest priority in this area is to deter and reduce illegal migration”.
By contrast, the committee said that the creation of a safe and legal route for those who might successfully seek asylum in the UK could provide “a disincentive and deterrent” for crossing the Channel. More than 150 people have died while attempting to reach the UK by small boats over the last five year.
MPs recommended that the government enter into discussions with the French government on providing UK asylum assessment facilities within France to enable claims to be considered before migrants risk their lives by attempting to cross. But the government rejected the suggestion, claiming that it would “create a new pull factor”.
Priti Patel was also asked by the committee to provide evidence that her flagship Rwanda scheme – which would permanently relocate asylum seekers to have their claims assessed by the East African nation – would deter people from seeking to arrive in the UK by irregular means.
The government did not provide any evidence in response and admitted that “the desired deterrent effect that the [Rwanda scheme] seeks to achieve cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty at this early stage”.
The Home Office also refused to provide the committee with more detailed costings for the scheme, despite claims by the Refugee Council that it could cost up to £1.4bn a year to relocate thousands of migrants to Rwanda.
It said that “providing full details of the funding arrangements at this stage would be prejudicial to [the] interests of the UK government, weakening our ability to negotiate future deals with other nations.”
Braverman, who replaced Priti Patel as home secretary last month, said she “would love to have a front page of the Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda” during an event at the Conservative Party conference. “That’s my dream, it’s my obsession,” she added.
The first removal flight to Rwanda was halted in July at the 11th hour after an intervention from the European Court of Human Rights. The government is currently battling to continue the scheme in the UK High Court.
Pressed by the committee to explain if the policies were lawful, the government responded by suggesting that international refugee conventions – which give asylum seekers the right to enter a country and have their claims examined – are outdated.
“We take our international obligations seriously, but illegal economic migration on this scale was not the issue in front of those drafting what are now decades old conventions,” it said.
The Home Affairs Committee said it “will now decide how to proceed in light of the government’s response and whether to take further action in due course”.
The chair, Labour MP Diana Johnson, said “No matter what the government says, it is clear that they have so far failed to adequately deal with the growth in channel crossings.
“Thirty-eight thousand have successfully made the journey so far this year, already more than came across in the whole of 2021, and yet only 4% of asylum claims from last year have been processed. This means that the 117,000 backlog of those claiming asylum grows. We are now hearing reports of the government paying to house asylum seekers in people’s homes or even tent cities in London’s parks; and they are attempting to obtain more hotel space at further cost to the tax-payer. This strategy is simply not working.”
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