Opinion

The Illegal Migration Bill will 'create a new homeless population'

Planned changes to the asylum system could push people who seek sanctuary in the UK into deathtrap homes or on to the streets, says Bridget Young from refugee support group NACCOM

The Illegal Migration Bill

The controversial Illegal Migration Bill is one of methods the Westminster government is using to cut migration to the UK. Image: Rasande Tyskar / Flickr

The UK government has thrown so much at refugees and people seeking asylum lately in their quest to (one more time for the people at the back) “STOP THE BOATS”, that it’s hard to look beyond the headline-grabbing soundbites to meaningfully look at how proposed new plans for the UK asylum system will actually work in practice, and the impact they will have on both individuals and communities.

The Illegal Migration Bill – the monstrous behemoth of legislation currently making its way through Parliament – intends to deter people considering arriving by ‘irregular’ routes, such as small boats, from coming here at all due to its hostile and extreme measures, which includes detaining and deporting people.

The complicated reality though is that, in large part due to a lack of safe alternative routes, and the false assumption that people understand the complexities of the UK asylum system before they undertake their journey, some people (though by global comparisons, relatively few) will continue to attempt the journey to the UK by whatever means possible.

For those who do come, safety and security are still a long way off. According to recent data published by the Refugee Council, under the Illegal Migration Bill an estimated 192,670 people could have their claim for refugee protection deemed inadmissible – not even considered – within the first three years of the legislation passing. People in this position will be unable to have their asylum claims processed, but will also be prevented from working, and in most cases cannot be removed from the UK due to the lack of returns agreements in place with other countries.

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Caught in this predicament, they will effectively be locked out of society, stuck in limbo and forced to endure an indefinite period of extreme hardship, poverty, and potential exploitation. The inevitable outcome for many people seeking asylum would be homelessness and destitution.

Although some people may be eligible for destitution-related support from the Home Office, many will face barriers to accessing this. Disengagement from the asylum system is also likely to increase, as will the number of people who choose to disappear into the community upon arrival rather than risk presenting themselves to the authorities. Those who do this will be dependent on informal support networks and at greater risk of exploitation.

With no pathway to move forward and rebuild their lives due to their ‘inadmissible’ status, the Illegal Migration Bill looks set to create an entirely new homeless and precariously-housed population, increasing the likelihood of people rough sleeping on our streets and in our communities.

As well as the significant risk of mental and physical harm this deliberately punitive immigration policy presents to individuals, it will also have a profound impact on communities across the UK, and will clearly undermine the government’s manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping in England by 2024

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As a network of frontline practitioners working with people experiencing destitution and homelessness in the asylum and immigration system, we know that unless all the complex and wide-ranging drivers of homelessness in migrant communities are tackled head-on, any strategy to end rough sleeping will fail.

The focus on the Illegal Migration Bill has also meant that other asylum and immigration policies, which directly affect the many thousands of people stuck in the current asylum system backlog, are being ushered in without due scrutiny as to their impact.

Whilst there is an urgent need to reduce the backlog and find more appropriate, long-term accommodation for refugees and people seeking asylum, the introduction of a new streamlined asylum questionnaire in February, alongside plans to evict Afghan refugees from hotels at pace, have both been criticised for failing to consider the safety and wellbeing of the people these policies are meant to benefit.

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The latest example of this is the announcement last week that the government intends to press ahead with its plan to suspend HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) licensing for asylum accommodation in England and Wales, which will weaken measures that are designed to provide a minimum level of protection to people living in HMOs and the communities they reside in, and that are essential to keeping everyone safe – such as fire, gas and electrical safety, and standards around overcrowding and sanitation.

Stripping away these basic protections not only endangers lives, but creates a two-tier system of shared housing standards that puts people seeking asylum disproportionately at risk. All these measures, brought in since the beginning of 2023, further legitimise the notion that a differential approach to the treatment of refugees is acceptable. That refugees don’t deserve safe or stable housing, or basic protections like the rest of us, just because of their immigration status. Whilst the problems presented by refugee integration may be complex, we cannot allow a two-tier approach to housing, support and access to justice – or indeed humanity – to become the norm.

Bridget Young is the director of The No Accommodation Network (NACCOM)

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