After a pause of almost a year because of the pandemic the Home Office is to restart the process of evicting some asylum seekers from their accommodation ‘with immediate effect’.
Charities and human rights campaigners have however condemned the decision as inhumane and warned that it could lead to a rise in people sleeping rough or sofa surfing, and as a consequence, an increase in coronavirus cases.
Public Health England are believed to have expressed concerns about the increased Covid risk that homelessness may create.
In the coming months it is thought that the Home Office will target thousands of asylum seekers for eviction and deportation.
Interim chief executive of the charity Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton, said: “Kicking people out on the streets at any time is appalling, but in a pandemic it’s reckless and inhumane. Providing safe and habitable accommodation and preventing poverty is the very least the government can do for people who come to this country seeking refuge”.
It is believed that there are approximately 60,000 asylum seekers supported by the Home Office. The majority are housed in what is known as section 95 accommodation.
The Home Office have said it will be evicting those whose cases have been refused. Asylum seekers and human rights campaigners fear that as the UK emerges from lockdown, many more who have been waiting for a decision will also receive refusals and face eviction, street homelessness and removal from the country.
A letter from a Home Office director, states that Chris Philp, the minister for future borders and immigration wrote to local authority chief executives informing them that “with immediate effect” officials will be reviewing and processing cases for possible cessation of Home Office support.
Only cases in England will be considered at the moment, although the decision is expected to be extended to the rest of the UK, and 21 days’ notice of eviction will be given. Those who agree to leave the UK can continue to be accommodated until a removal flight can be arranged for them.
“We will be sharing details of the current number of cases for review with local authorities in order to assist them with planning. However, we must emphasise that it is not possible at this stage to be definitive about the final volume of cases that will have their support discontinued”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, failed asylum seekers have had accommodation and financial assistance provided at the expense of the taxpayer as they have been unable to travel home. As restrictions ease and it becomes possible once again for failed asylum seekers to return, it it right that we start to withdraw this support.
“For those who engage with the voluntary returns scheme, we will continue to provide accommodation and support, and will also do so for those who are temporarily unable to leave the UK because of a practical or legal obstacle.
“Our New Plan for Immigration will reform the broken asylum system, allowing us to welcome people through safe and legal routes while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it”.
Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, Andy Hewett, said: “This is deeply concerning news for people who are already in very vulnerable situations, putting them at direct risk of becoming street homeless and destitute. Let us not forget that we are still very much living through a pandemic, meaning people do not have the same level of access to the services and agencies they would normally rely on to help prevent homelessness”.