A crisis is unfolding in refugee and asylum accommodation, as a 160,000-strong backlog of unprocessed cases continues to grow. In response, the Tories are attempting to create an environment for migrants that is more hostile than ever.
Warnings have been raised that, with its reckless policies, Rishi Sunak’s government is laying the groundwork for a humanitarian catastrophe.
Nevertheless, the Tories have made clear their intentions to shift the asylum backlog and bring down immigration numbers by any means necessary, in order to save face and placate the most rabid layers in the party.
Plans are being put in place to remove asylum-seekers’ existing housing protections; to reopen a number of crisis-ridden immigrant removal centres (IRCs); and even to hold people on barges and cruise liners anchored along the coast.
This shows the shocking lengths that this rotten Tory government will go to, in their war on the exploited and the oppressed.
Big boats policy
Currently, 50,000 refugees are housed across 400 UK hotels, while they await the outcome of their asylum applications. The cost of this comes in at over £6 million per day.
This is far from a five-star experience. Asylum-seekers can be stuck in limbo for months at a time. All the while, far-right thugs whip up anti-refugee violence, and people-traffickers target unaccompanied children.
Yet many in the Tory Party still consider this an unacceptable cost, intimating that refugees are living the life of Riley at the taxpayer’s expense.
Instead, one proposal being put to MPs, spearheaded by frontbenchers Suella Braverman and Michael Gove, is to move thousands of refugees out of hotels and into private rentals.
To help bring about such a change, those pursuing this plan have suggested that existing basic housing protections could be removed for asylum-seekers. This includes legal requirements for landlords to apply for a HMO licence, or to conduct gas and electrical safety tests.
Other hair-raising options, such as using former prisons and oil rigs to house refugees, may have been nixed for the time being. But the government’s order of the Bibby Stockholm – a giant 222-cabin barge designed to hold migrants offshore – has already arrived.
Bibby Stockholm, a barge leased by the British government to house 500 single adult male migrants arrived in Falmouth, where it will undergo inspection before it is used pic.twitter.com/9Yk2x8dMbH
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 9, 2023
Evidently Sunak’s and Braverman’s aversion to boats of refugees only applies to small vessels.
Far from being the Tories’ invention, however, this boat was previously used by the Dutch government in order to house asylum-seekers. But this scheme was quickly scrapped, following reports of widespread abuses on board.
Neither these revelations, nor the fact that the Bibby Stockholm’s upkeep may turn out to be more expensive than the current hotel setup, have deterred Braverman and co., however.
Instead, the Tory government is planning to squeeze as many as 500 people into this floating prison, located off the Dorset coast.
Prisoners and profiteers
The second prong of the Tories’ response to the asylum backlog has been to ramp up the detention and removal of migrants and refugees.
Rishi Sunak has been lobbying for stricter limits on the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to block deportations, for example. And Tory ministers have already started advertising a six-year £339 million contract to run two soon-to-be-reopened IRCs in Oxfordshire and Hampshire.
One stumbling block for the government is that existing detention centres are already at breaking point, with outsourced management companies such as Serco showing scant regard for detainees’ safety and wellbeing.
In November last year, Manston IRC in Kent hit the headlines when 4,000 migrants spent weeks at a site designed to hold just 1,600 people for a maximum of 24 hours.
Amidst outbreaks of coronavirus and diphtheria, the Tories quickly ordered for occupants to be moved on. But the resulting scramble left some being dumped on freezing streets in blankets and flip-flops, without money or phones.
Even when these centres are not filled beyond capacity, conditions are dire for those detained in Britain’s seven for-profit IRCs. Last month, for example, riots broke out at Yarl’s Wood after people were repeatedly confined to their rooms.
One Socialist Appeal supporter, with a friend detained at Colnbrook IRC near Heathrow, has reported how the men (up to 70 in each wing) held at this facility must share three often-broken washing machines; work for £1 per hour to afford essentials like toiletries; and face regular abuse and medical negligence.
This detainee’s own words get to the core of it: “They don’t see us as people. We are just money to them.”
No wonder mental health within IRCs is on the brink. Self-harm is commonplace. And suicides – such as that of Frank Ospina, a 39-year-old from Colombia who recently took his own life after receiving notification of deportation – are far from infrequent.
Splits and divisions
But whilst the headbangers may be appeasing the frothing ranks of the Tory Party, they are creating headaches for the more serious representatives of British capitalism.
This week, for example, Tory leadership hopeful Suella Braverman gave an incendiary speech at the National Conservatism conference, where she went further than Sunak on the question of migration policy, calling for hard limits on all forms of immigration to the UK.
Presented with this fait accompli, and keen not to be outflanked, Downing Street had to confirm that it had given the go ahead for Braverman’s talk.
Others in the Cabinet, however, are not so sure about the Home Secretary’s suggestions. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, for example, would like to fill gaping holes in the UK workforce with migrant labour, and to encourage international students (paying eye-watering tuition fees) to come to Britain – both of which would be ruled out if Braverman demands were met.
These splits and divisions in the Tory Party go from top to bottom.
Recently, former PM Theresa May, founder of the Tories’ ‘hostile environment’ policy, hypocritically spoke out against Sunak’s ‘small boats’ bill, saying that it had the potential to revert progress made against modern slavery.
And elsewhere, Conservative councillors in Dorset are even threatening legal action against their own party, in an effort to block the Bibby Stockholm barge – not out of concern for refugees’ welfare, of course, but over the damage to local tourism that this boat of ‘criminals’ might cause.
All the while, it is migrants and refugees – subject to hardship and super-exploitation, to insecure and unsafe housing, and to the horrors of indefinite detention – who must suffer the consequences of this circus, as Sunak and his cronies attempt to hold together their fractured party, and divert attention away from their countless blunders.
For all their divisions, the Tories are united in their complete inability to resolve this crisis.
No amount of asylum-seeker bashing or inflammatory anti-refugee rhetoric can curb the migrant crisis – the roots of which lie far deeper than any Tory policy, beyond Britain’s shores.
From wars and repression, to climate catastrophes, to hunger and disease: it is capitalism and imperialism that is ultimately responsible for forcing millions to flee their homes, in search of a real future.
And while the capitalists and their system perpetuate this misery and barbarism, they are more than happy to profit from it also – whipping up racism to divide workers, whilst exploiting migrant and native labour alike.
The only genuine solution is to overthrow this entire system, by fighting for international socialist revolution.
On the basis of a socialist economic plan, the enormous wealth and resources in society could be used to provide decent homes, jobs, and services for all – free of borders and bigotry.
This is the revolutionary programme that workers and youth must fight for. The real criminals are the capitalists. Our enemy doesn’t arrive by boat, but by limousine.