Abuse of asylum seekers is a mark of shame, senior MP says as bill clears first hurdle

George Howarth warns refugees in Knowsley, UK, have been harangued and assaulted after a protest last month

Concerns have been raised about accommodation for asylum seekers, such as this former barracks in Folkestone. Getty Images
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The UK “should be ashamed” that asylum seekers are being subjected to abuse, a senior Labour MP has said.

George Howarth's comments came as the Illegal Migration Bill — which aims to stop people claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means — cleared its first reading in the House of Commons, with a vote of 312 to 250.

Speaking at the bill reading on Monday, the former minister and MP for Knowsley highlighted the abuse and assaults that refugees are facing.

These worsened after a protest last month outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley, Merseyside. A police vehicle was vandalised and fireworks were thrown.

Mr Howarth criticised the government's Illegal Migration Bill in the Commons, saying “we should all be ashamed” of the situation.

“I want to agree with the Home Secretary on one thing,” he said. “And that is when she said we should choose our words carefully. It's just a pity she didn't do so herself.”

He raised concerns about the deteriorating conditions for asylum seekers and called for action to be taken to improve their welfare.

Mr Howarth said: “There is a hotel in Knowsley with 180-plus asylum seekers … since [the protest] the situation has deteriorated to the extent that some of the refugees have been verbally abused in the street and others have been assaulted.

A burnt police van after the protest outside a hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside

“And they have fled because the countries they come from were unsafe, only to find themselves in an unsafe position in this country. And I think we should all be ashamed.”

He added that the protest has had a negative impact on the lives of asylum seekers in Knowsley, and the situation has become a cause for concern for the local community.

“It's not just happening in Knowsley, it's happening all over the country”, the former minister said.

Mr Howarth's statement has drawn attention to the urgent need for better treatment of asylum seekers and for policies that ensure their safety and well-being.

The government has yet to respond to the concerns raised by the MP and the community.

First reading of Illegal Migration Bill passed in Commons

Meanwhile, the bill cleared its first reading in the Commons, but not without criticism from some Conservative MPs who have called for amendments to protect trafficked women, children and victims of modern slavery.

The proposed legislation has been criticised by the UN's refugee agency as an “asylum ban”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaks about the Illegal Migration Bill in the House of Commons. Reuters

Home Secretary Suella Braverman argued that the bill was needed to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK after crossing the English Channel. She said that there has been “too much” immigration in recent years.

However, former prime minister Theresa May warned that modern slavery victims would be “collateral damage” and have the door shut on them by measures within the bill.

It includes provisions that would allow for the detention of migrants for up to 28 days without recourse to bail or judicial review, and then indefinitely for as long as there is a “reasonable prospect” of removal.

Challenges based on modern slavery laws would be barred, and any other legal attempt to stay would be heard overseas — after the migrants were removed.

Conservative former justice secretary Robert Buckland expressed “great concern” at the prospect of detaining children. He warned that the tone of some in his own party was “not appropriate” and that there was a danger of “ineffective authoritarianism” in parts of the bill.

The debate in the Commons was heated, with both sides exchanging criticism and some MPs heckled for their language. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas criticised the proposal as “immoral, deeply cruel and divisive”, and ripped up a copy of the bill at the end of her speech.

The Labour Party tabled an amendment seeking to block the Bill, but it was defeated by 249 votes to 312.

After the votes, Ms Braverman accused Labour of having “no plan to stop the boats, they have no desire to either”.

The bill still faces further readings and debates before it can become law.

Updated: March 14, 2023, 8:39 AM