28 February 2023

Time to show illegal immigrants that Britain is no holiday camp


Millions of people are struggling with their cost of living, but for Channel migrants the reward for an illegal crossing is free bed and board at the taxpayers’ expense. The bien-pensant classes may shrug their shoulders, but they aren’t the ones carrying the economic and social costs of the crisis – rather it is communities in some of the most deprived parts of the country.

This is is abundantly clear from analysis of the latest Home Office data. Under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, migrants who lodge asylum applications are supposed to be housed in flats and house shares while they await a decision on their application. There were 51,168 migrants in receipt of this ‘Section 95’ support as of December 2022. 

However, such is the scale of the problem in the Channel that overflow into ‘Section 98’ temporary accommodation – hotels and B&Bs – more than doubled during the course of 2022. By the end of the year, the Home Office was using hotels to house 49,493 asylum seekers (with the taxpayer picking up the £5.6m daily tab, of course).

There are around 9,800 hotels with something like 800,000-900,000 rooms in the UK, so around 5% of all hotel rooms in the country are now occupied by asylum seekers (even if some are in multiple-occupancy rooms). If migrants receiving Section 98 support were evenly distributed, there would be five migrants per hotel on average. But, of course, they’re not.

Across the UK, 198 local authorities were having to cope with influxes of Section 98 migrants – 48% of the total. The local authorities with the highest numbers were the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Hounslow, Barnet and Croydon, as well as Birmingham and Liverpool, each with over 1,000 Section 98 migrants (and 2,317 in the case of Hillingdon). 

However, relative to the local population, the greatest burdens are falling less on large metropolitan authorities and more on smaller cities and provincial towns – places such as Eastbourne, Erewash, Blackpool, Crawley and Gloucester. This should come as no surprise to regular CapX readers. As Poppy Coburn has previously pointed out, England’s seaside towns are bearing the brunt of the migrant crisis, as dumping grounds for migrants – out of sight, out of mind, at least from the windows of Whitehall and the Palace of Westminster.

At the end of last year, there were 33 local authorities with at least one migrant in a hotel for every 500 local residents. Around the Sussex town of Crawley, there were 522 migrants being accommodated in hotels – one for every 227 locals. In the London borough of Hillingdon, there was one migrant for every 132 residents.

Interestingly, it’s often the most performatively compassionate areas – the ‘sanctuary cities’ and the like – which are hosting the fewest Section 98 migrants. Scotland, which accounts for 8% of the UK’s population, is only hosting 1% of all migrants in hotels. There are more Section 98 migrants in the city of Belfast than the whole of Scotland.

Meanwhile, the progressive bastion of Brighton and Hove hosts just 163 migrants in hotels. That’s 0.3% of the national total and less than half the number a little way along the coast in Eastbourne, where there’s one migrant per 286 locals, not one per 1,700 as in Brighton.

Eastbourne is a particularly telling example. Roughly 10% of all hotel rooms in the area are being used to house Channel migrants. With the summer holiday season only a few months away, local businesses in Eastbourne – as in other seaside towns like Blackpool and Folkestone – will be waiting with some trepidation to see what effect this will have on tourist numbers.

Not only are many rooms, and sometimes even whole hotels, already occupied by section 98 claimants with little disposable income, but holiday-goers could also be put off more generally by perceptions of anti-social behaviour and crime. This might be fine for hoteliers and Home Office contractors receiving taxpayers’ money, but not for other local businesses who rely on tourism.

Nor is this problem going to disappear any time soon. As I noted recently for the Centre for Policy Studies, even if the Government were to hit its target of 2,000 asylum caseworkers at the Home Office, it’s going to take at least three years to clear the backlog and empty the hotels. And that’s assuming ‘only’ 65,000 migrants cross the Channel each year, not the 80,000 we’re currently on track for by the end of 2023.

The crossings won’t stop – or even stop increasing – until we follow in the footsteps of the Australians, get the Rwanda scheme up and running and implement a range of reforms designed to enhance our deterrence posture, as Nick Timothy and I set out in our CPS report ‘Stopping the Crossings’. But even if the crossings were to miraculously cease overnight, it would still take 17 months to work through the existing asylum backlog. 

In other words, there will still be migrants in hotels come the next general election, probably more than there are now, unless the Government takes decisive action. Reports suggest that one ‘solution’ ministers are looking at is fast-tracking around 12,000 asylum applications from people claiming to be Afghan, Syrian, Eritrean, Libyan or Yemeni nationals. That would involve dropping interviews and relying on streamlined questionnaires. It would be an amnesty in all but name and, aside from being unethical, would be deeply foolish. 

Conservative voters would rightly see it as a betrayal. It would undermine the principle of deterrence which needs to the bedrock of our immigration and asylum system. A more ethical and prudent approach to emptying the hotels would be to use collective accommodation. It is encouraging that the Government is exploring such alternatives. But many of the options being discussed – disused holiday parks, for example – are still near settlements.

A better alternative would be the approach outlined in ‘Stopping the Crossings’: legal reforms to ensure we can detain illegal maritime entrants indefinitely (this is likely to require leaving the ECHR) while building cheap, safe and secure modular accommodation away from major population centres – on fallow MoD land in Northumberland, for example.  

The current situation is ethically, politically and practically unsustainable. Channel crossings are up by 80% so far in 2023, and asylum caseworker productivity at the poorly staffed Home Office is still feeble. We could easily see 10% of all hotel rooms in the country occupied by Channel migrants by the end of the year, and in some coastal and provincial towns, it could be several multiples of this, with a devastating impact on local economies and communities.

Until the Rwanda scheme is up and running – and indeed as a buttress when it is – we need to find a better way of housing the thousands of migrants crossing the Channel until they can be repatriated or relocated. It’s time to show those who wish to come here illegally that Britain is no holiday camp.

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Karl Williams is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Studies.