The home secretary said “everything is still on the table” as she revealed that the cost of using hotels could spiral to £2.3 billion next year.
Suella Braverman said the cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels was “unacceptable”.
Suella Braverman said the cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels was “unacceptable”.UK PARLIAMENT
Cruise ships could be used to house aslyum seekers while their claims are processed, Suella Braverman has admitted.
The home secretary said “everything is on the table” when asked what accommodation could be provided for the thousands of immigrants crossing the Channel in small boats.
She also revealed that accommodation and support costs for asylum seekers would balloon to £3.5 billion next year.
The Home Office is coming under increasing pressure to provide alternative sites for asylum seekers, who are currently put up in hotels.
Rishi Sunak revealed earlier this month that former holiday camps will also be used as an alternative as part of his plans to tackle the problem.
The prime minister first floated the idea of using cruise ships to house asylum seekers in this summer’s Tory leadership, saying the government needed to “deliver thousands of new beds through a range of existing and novel solutions, including the use of cruise ships”.
However, the plan was apparently dropped in October following warnings their use could be illegal.
But Braverman appeared to resurrect the plan at the committee, saying: “Nothing is excluded.”
The home secretary said the government wanted to boost the number of asylum seekers in local authority accommodation to 100,000, up from the current number of 57,000.
However, she acknowledged that reaching the 100,000 target would be an “incredibly difficult” challenge given the pressures on the UK housing supply.
“You then asked about cruise ships, we want to end the use of hotels as quickly as possible because it’s an unacceptable cost to the taxpayer, it’s over £5 million a day on hotel use alone,” she told the committee.
“We will bring forward a range of alternative sites, they will include disused holiday parks, former student halls – I should say we are looking at those sites – I wouldn’t say anything is confirmed yet.
“But we need to bring forward thousands of places, and when you talk about vessels all I can say is – because we are in discussion with a wide variety of providers – that everything is still on the table and nothing is excluded.”
In response, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said the “cost to taxpayers of the government’s failed asylum policy has become simply astronomical”.
“But instead of fixing the broken asylum system by creating safe and legal routes for refugees or dealing with the claims backlog, Suella Braverman is doubling down with the same failed approach,” he said.
“Her ludicrous proposals to house refugees in cruise ships will once again be ineffective and incredibly expensive. She needs to come clean with the public on exactly how much these plans will cost.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said using disused cruise ships was “more distraction from the urgent task of reforming an asylum system that she and her predecessor have effectively broken”.
“Successive home secretaries have deliberately allowed the asylum decision-making process to all but grind to a halt, instructing staff to waste countless hours sifting through people’s cases to find reasons to avoid making decisions, while threatening people with expulsion, including to Rwanda.
“Inventing bureaucratic hurdles for the sole purpose of maintaining a ‘hostile’ appearance is enormously expensive and deeply harmful — yet the home secretary is introducing more of these hurdles rather than reducing them.”
Government figures show that more than 44,000 people have crossed the Channel to the UK this year — something that prompted Sunak to say “enough is enough” in a statement in the Commons last week.
Last week, four people died after a small boat capsized in the Channel.
Meanwhile, the latest Home Office figures show there were more than 143,000 asylum seekers waiting for a decision on their claims in the year to September, while nearly 100,000 had been waiting more than six months.
The prime minister unveiled five-point plan last week to deal with the issue, which Labour branded “unworkable gimmicks”.
He told MPs that spending £5.5 million a day housing asylum seekers in hotels was “unfair and appalling” as he announced a new range of alternative sites, including disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military sites.
Sunak also said a “new, permanent, unified small boats operational command” will be set up, while more immigration raids will be carried out to crack down on illegal working.
He also announced plans to fast-rack the return of Albanian asylum seekers after figures showed they made up the highest number of people arriving in small boats.
In response, Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “It’s all designed to mask failure — to distract from a broken asylum system that can’t process claims, can’t return those with no right to be here, and can’t protect our borders.”