Concerns raised over conditions at ‘camps’ to house asylum seekers in UK

Elizabeth Arnold, Lewis McKenzie and Richard Wheeler, PA Political Staff
·4-min read

Several “camps” lacking mains electricity and water are to be created to house asylum seekers, according to a Conservative former immigration minister.

Caroline Nokes warned the Home Office’s proposed changes to the asylum system coming into force on January 1 “have far reaching implications”.

Ms Nokes added while the reforms are intended to act as a deterrent to people traffickers, they instead “create a separate tier of asylum seeker” who will not have their claim considered and who the “minister will seek to return with no mechanism yet to do so”.

The Government argued the accommodation it provides is “reasonable” and “good”.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Nokes said: “They will be housed in camps… with no mains electricity, nor mains water.

“He has just 10 working days before they come into force, and will the permitted development powers he intends to use to create several of these camps be extended by statutory instrument like these rules, avoiding parliamentary scrutiny?”

She added: “Does he think the changes might in fact see an increase to the asylum application backlog?

“I ask the minister, does he have a strategic plan or does he hope housing people on sites where he admits he will not provide healthcare will just act as a deterrent?”

Ms Nokes went on: “The minister plans to put people in camps with no mains water at a time when we know hygiene is critical and if it were not for you (Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle) having granted this urgent (question) today, he would not even have come to the House to explain himself.”

Responding, Home Office minister Chris Philp said: “I would say the accommodation we provide is reasonable, is good.

Caroline Nokes
Caroline Nokes is a former immigration minister (Victoria Jones/PA)

“There are 60,000 people currently being accommodated.”

The Government, he said, had a “proud record” of helping those who are genuinely in need, adding: “The purpose of these changes are to prepare us for a life after Dublin (regulation).

“It’s quite right that we make those preparations but at the heart of this is a desire to dissuade people, indeed prevent people from making unnecessary and dangerous journeys.

“In particular across the English Channel, endangering their own lives, feeding ruthless criminal people smugglers and all for no purpose because France is a safe country, where asylum can easily be claimed, as are the other European countries these migrants have travelled through.”

Mr Philp said the Government is taking action to “fix” the asylum system “so it is firm and fair – firm where the system is being abused but fair to those who need protection”.

The changes to the immigration rules laid last week he said “are vital to curb irregular migration which is often facilitated by ruthless criminal gangs”.

He said: “These changes will mean that individuals who could and should have claimed asylum previously in a safe country may not have their asylum claims determined in the UK where we are able to safely return them.

“These new measures will enable us to replace Dublin with more flexible returns arrangements.

“This will have a deterrent effect by sending a clear message to anyone thinking of coming to the UK dangerously from a safe country that they should not risk their lives by doing so.”

Chris Philp
Chris Philp was answering questions in the House of Commons (House of Commons)

For Labour, shadow Home Office minister Holly Lynch said the changes are being introduced “by the back door” and give no opportunity for proper scrutiny in Parliament.

Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh warned: “Sooner or later, there’s going to be an appalling tragedy in the Channel. The reason why economic migrants make this crossing is that they know that our present asylum laws are a complete joke.

“That if you make it half way across the Channel, the chance of ever being deported are virtually nil because of the activities of so-called human rights lawyers who are actually putting lives at risk by their shenanigans in the law courts.

“What we want to have from the minister is an absolute firm commitment that as from January 1, if you cross the Channel it is obvious you are coming from a safe country, you will be immediately returned. That’s what we want to know.”

Mr Philp said the UK does need to deter crossings and make sure that its legal process “works effectively”, noting “very often it does not do so”.