Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers Will Not Deter People Seeking Safety

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In their latest dance to the fiddle of the far-right dog whistle, the Home Office have announced the building of reception centres for people seeking asylum, instead of providing hotels. The latest crackdown on the asylum system has been announced as part of the ‘radical overhauls’ promised in the Sovereign Borders Bill due this month.

Reception centres for people seeking asylum

New reception centres will supposedly be purpose-built to hold people while they have their asylum claims assessed and replace ‘dispersal accommodation’, such as hotels. Appeasement of the far-right, who have repeatedly travelled to hotels during the pandemic to film and harrass people held there, appears to be the goal.

Once again, Home Secretary Priti Patel uses the phrase ‘illegal migrants’ to describe people crossing the channel to claim asylum on the UK’s shores. With no other safe route option to take, asylum can only be claimed once you are inside the UK. The government’s own most recent statistics on asylum also showed that over two thirds of applicants for asylum go on to get a positive decision

Creating a narrative such as this creates public perception that this is all about choice; that of course ‘only the best will do’ for people making the journey for selfish personal gain.

A government source was quoted as saying ‘it’s a mixture of stopping the pull factor and getting the best value for the taxpayer.’ The number of people claiming asylum waiting for a decision reached over 64,000 – an all time high – at the end of 2020. However it is important to say, only 0.6% of the UK’s population are people claiming asylum. 

Rather than question the structure of the system, and how it can be reformed in the aftermath of the pandemic, blame is cast on those seeking safety. With how hard navigating the asylum system has been made, blaming hotels as a ‘pull factor’ couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Pull” factors? 

This move comes despite reports of deaths in Home Office asylum seeker accommodation hotels and the dangerous conditions engineered knowingly by the Home Secretary by using sites unfit for habitation like Napier and Penally barracks.

Further, damning reports and multiple legal challenges have been undertaken over allegations of abuse and even sexual harrassment against those held in hotel accommodation by private contractor staff members. 

Clearly, people claiming asylum do not come to the UK for the accommodation options. For someone making such a risky journey, the difference between a hotel room and a bed in a barracks is not going to deter anyone.

Despite this, the spectre of the economic ‘pull factor’ continues to hover. The damaging mischaracterisation of people seeking asylum as not genuine and ‘economic migrants’ has now been mainstream for many years.

For over 25 years, government policy has encroached into the provisions available, to the point that army barracks were deemed a suitable option. 

Since 2000, the Home Office has run dispersal housing located around the UK, away from the main arrival points near London and the South East of England. Now, new reception centres will be concentrated in the South East alone.

From 2019, the Home Office signed over £4.5bn worth of ten year contracts with just three private companies providing both initial and dispersal accommodation: Clearsprings, Mears and Serco. 

Contracts offer no increased cost to the government, as there is a fixed charge per person regardless of the price of sourcing suitable accommodation. Despite having eight more years of these contracts left, the Home Office will now concentrate public money on building ‘reception centres’. 

Asylum support, capped at just £5 a day for most, also costs the Home Office hundreds of millions a year. However, the Labour government removed people’s right to work while waiting for a decision back in 2002. For almost 20 years, there has been no chance for people seeking asylum in the UK to be active in the labour market and contribute to the economy. 

Forced migration, in which seeking asylum can be part of attempting to seek refuge, is not a rational economic act. However policy decisions across the UK and Europe have deemed it so. An evidence review undertaken by the University of Warwick found no causal links in any study of economic ‘pull factors’ between welfare policies and numbers of asylum applications. As Lucy Mayblin stated in 2016 of the research, ‘The policy rationale, repeated in parliament and press statements over and over again for two decades, is based on nothing.’

Even in 2021, the Home Office are pursuing damaging policies based on the lie of linear cause and effect to appease Nigel Farage and the live-streaming brigade. Simplistic policy decisions only play into the far-right narrative, when the reality is far more complex.

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