A UK immigration rule, paused for almost a year amid the coronavirus pandemic, will resume with immediate effect. The Home Office is set to restart the process of evicting some asylum seekers from their accommodation, according to an internal document seen by The Guardian. Charities and human rights campaigners have blasted the decision.
It’s understood that in the coming months the Home Office will target thousands of asylum seekers for eviction from their accommodation and removal from the UK. Charities and human rights groups have described the move as ‘inhumane’ and warned that it could lead to an increase in people sleeping rough and sofa surfing, resulting in a rise in COVID cases.
The documents seen by The Guardian also show concerns raised by Public Health England about the potential COVID risks that homelessness can cause.
The interim chief executive of the charity Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton, said: “Kicking people out on the streets at any time is appalling, but in a pandemic it’s reckless and inhumane. Providing safe and habitable accommodation and preventing poverty is the very least the government can do for people who come to this country seeking refuge.”
It’s understood that approximately 60,000 asylum seekers are currently supported by the Home Office, with the majority housed in ‘section 95 accommodation’.
The Home Office has said that it will be evicting people whose asylum applications have been refused. Amid the news, and as the UK emerges out of lockdown, asylum seekers and human rights groups now fear that many more who have been waiting for a decision will also receive a refusal, face eviction, end up homeless and be forced to leave the country.
A letter sent from the Home Office director, and seen by The Guardian, states that Chris Philp, the minister for future borders and UK immigration wrote to local authority chief executives on 23 April notifying them that with ‘immediate effect’, officials will be ‘reviewing and processing cases for possible cessation of Home Office support’.
Cases in England
It’s understood that only cases in England will be considered. However, it’s expected that the move will be extended to the rest of the UK, with asylum seekers given 21 days’ notice of their impending eviction. Those who agree to leave Britain voluntary will continue to be accommodated until a removal flight is arranged for them.
An excerpt from the internal Home Office letter states: “We will be sharing details of the current number of cases for review with local authorities to assist them with planning. However, I would like to emphasise that it is not possible at this stage to be definitive about the final volume of cases that will have their support discontinued.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Throughout the pandemic, failed asylum seekers have had accommodation and financial assistance provided at the expense of the taxpayer as they have been unable to travel home. As restrictions ease and it becomes possible once again for failed asylum seekers to return, it is right that we start to withdraw this support.”
“For those who engage with the voluntary returns scheme, we will continue to provide accommodation and support, and will also do so for those who are temporarily unable to leave the UK because of a practical or legal obstacle,” the spokesperson added.
Reform broken asylum system
The spokesperson went on to say: “Our New Plan for UK Immigration will reform the broken asylum system, allowing us to welcome people through safe and legal routes, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.”
The head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, Andy Hewett, said: “This is deeply concerning news for people who are already in very vulnerable situations, putting them at direct risk of becoming street homeless and destitute.”
“Let us not forget that we are still very much living through a pandemic, meaning people do not have the same level of access to the services and agencies they would normally rely on to help prevent homelessness,” Hewett added.
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