LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A leading refugee organization has called the dumping of asylum seekers outside a bus station in London in the dead of night was the “culmination of so much cruelty” resulting from UK government’s “hostile environment” policy towards undocumented immigrants.
On Tuesday, a group of at least 45 asylum seekers who had arrived to the UK in small boats crossing the English channel were removed from Manston migration center in Kent were taken to the capital and left at the Victoria bus station.
The recently opened center was designed to hold a maximum of 1,600 people, but in recent weeks has held more than twice that number.
The government said the group had told officials they had places to go to, although that wasn’t the case for the majority.
Dr. Sophie Cartwright, a Senior Policy Officer at the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK), said the case “does not seem to have been an anomaly,” and noted the asylum seekers were not told where they were, where they could go for safety or given any money.
“These people had been forced from their homes due to war, famine and persecution, and had struggled to reach the UK in hopes of safety. Abandoned in a strange place by those who were supposed to protect them, it is fair to imagine they were confused, disoriented, and afraid,” she said in comments sent to Crux.
“This follows on the back of an outbreak of diphtheria at the overcrowded camp. The government first incarcerated refugees in appalling and dangerous conditions; then it made some of these refugees destitute, homeless, and abandoned, someone else’s problem. This was an act of callous inhumanity. It sits at the feet of and reflects a deeply imbedded government policy of intentional cruelty towards refugees,” Cartwright said.
Noting that officials said the asylum seekers were shipped out to ease the overcrowding at the Manston facility, Cartwright questioned their motivation.
“What problem did they imagine they were solving? Clearly not that vulnerable people did not have a safe place to sleep. Whoever saw this as a solution did not see human suffering as the issue requiring resolution. And how could this have been seen as an acceptable solution to any problem? Because enforced destitution of refugees has long been normal in our society. For too long, we have enacted a politics of dehumanization. It has grown deeper and deeper. This is the result,” she said.
In April, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the government would send asylum seekers crossing the English Channel to Rwanda for processing, with successful candidates to be given refugee status in the African country.
Although the UK has seen two new prime ministers since the plan was announced, the current administration says they are not only sticking with it, but are looking for other countries willing to process the country’s asylum seekers.
In 2010, the ruling Conservative party pledged to cut immigration to the UK to “the tens of thousands,” a target many experts saw as impractical.
Since that time, the government has made it more difficult for all sorts of immigrants to come to the country, including spouses of British citizens, students, and academic appointments.
They have also tightened up on the procedures for asylum seekers to prove their refugee status.
Asylum seekers in the UK are generally not allowed to work, although if they are still in the system for over a year, some may seek jobs on a “shortage occupation list” provided by the government, no matter what qualifications they may have.
The government has also implemented a “hostile environment” policy, which aims to make it difficult to live in the UK if you are an illegal immigrant, but often affects asylum seekers, too.
“The camp at Manston was opened against the backdrop of the anti-refugee Nationality and Borders Act 2022 – a new piece of legislation aimed at making it as hard as possible to get refugee status in the UK, and punishing refugees for how they travel, in contravention of the Refugee Convention,” Cartwright explained.
“The camp was also, connectedly part and parcel of new measures designed to be cruel to refugees, particularly targeted at those arriving via small boats. Of most immediate relevance, these include the use of large-scale, institutional accommodation sites, like the notorious and prison-like asylum camp at Napier barracks; the vastly expanded use of immigration detention, with a renewed emphasis on detaining people while their asylum claims are being processed, and while they wait to find out if the government will even examine their claim,” the JRS official continued.
“That is, the opening of Manston as an asylum processing center was part of a plan to accommodate people seeking asylum in inhumane conditions, and to incarcerate them more frequently. Though insistent that there was some kind of ‘migrant crisis’ on the south coast, the UK’s Home Secretary blocked the procurement of what would have been basic hotel accommodation for asylum seekers. The consequences were grave. People were held for weeks in a setting intended only for quick processing, resulting in a public health emergency. Now, they are left to sleep on the streets, as winter closes in,” she said.
Cartwright noted that governments making refugees homeless “is not new.”
“Under what they themselves termed the ‘hostile environment,’ successive UK governments have weaponized destitution against people who have sought asylum here and been refused it, ostensibly as a means of immigration control,” she said.
“In a landscape of vaunting inequality where more and more struggle, we must craft a politics with human beings at its heart, and where meeting basic human needs and preserving human dignity is a priority,” she said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome