Suella Braverman commits to spend £3.5bn on UK asylum system

British Home Secretary says officials were in talks to house asylum seekers on disused cruise ships

Home Secretary Suella Braverman appears before the House of Lords justice and home affairs committee in London on Wednesday. PA
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Home Secretary Suella Braverman has announced that the UK government will spend £3.5 billion ($4.2 billion) on the asylum system in a year.

Ms Braverman confirmed that plans to house migrants on disused cruise ships were being considered as she said £2.3 billion of the total bill for 2022-2023 will go towards paying for hotels.

“We are accommodating 117,000 people overall who are in our asylum process," she told the House of Lords justice and home affairs committee on Wednesday.

“So there is a huge amount of money that is going into accommodating a very large number of asylum seekers.”

Describing how “everything is still on the table and nothing is excluded”, Ms Braverman suggested Home Office officials were were in talks with ship companies about the idea of housing migrants on disused liners.

She also discussed the “incredibly difficult” challenge of hitting the ambition of getting 100,000 asylum seekers into local authority accommodation, as opposed to hotels, with that figure currently at 57,000.

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“You then asked about cruise ships," Ms Braverman said. "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.

“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.”

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Alistair Carmichael, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the asylum costs were “astronomical” and warned that the “ludicrous proposals” to house asylum seekers on cruise ships would be “ineffective and incredibly expensive”.

“On top of the clear unsuitability, Suella Braverman’s talk of housing people seeking asylum in old cruise ships, disused holiday camps and student halls is just more distraction from the urgent task of reforming an asylum system that she and her predecessor have effectively broken," said Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director.

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Ms Braverman also said she had yet to find a new airline to deport migrants to Rwanda.

There were “ongoing discussions with several airlines” after Privilege Style pulled out in October amid pressure from campaigners, she said.

The government used a plane run by the Spanish charter airline for the first flight in June, which was abandoned at the last minute after legal challenges.

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“We are returning people almost every week to various countries around the world," Ms Braverman said.

"We do that through scheduled flights, we charter flights … so we’re in a variety of discussions with several airlines for lots of different destinations.”

The “delivery” of the Rwanda deal was “on pause, it’s on hold while we’re going through litigation”, she said.

This week Ms Braverman said she was committed to sending migrants to Rwanda as soon as possible after High Court judges ruled the government’s multimillion-pound plan to give migrants who cross the Channel to the UK a one-way ticket to the East African nation was lawful.

But Downing Street admitted it was impossible to say when flights could take off while the threat of further legal action remained.

Updated: December 21, 2022, 11:14 PM