Rishi Sunak admits more action needed to control Channel crossings

UK Prime Minister to share updates on asylum case backlog and hotel use amid criticism

Migrants are taken into Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel, from a small boat in the English Channel. PA
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is due to give an update on his promises to end small boat crossings of the English Channel and address the backlog of asylum cases.

The announcement comes as Mr Sunak is facing growing pressure over the Conservative party's migration promises.

Set to speak in Kent on Monday, he will report on progress achieved six months after the introduction of his Illegal Migration Bill under the “stop the boats” initiative.

The plan aimed to put an end to unauthorised sea crossings into the UK.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick defended the government's approach, saying that the current asylum system, which he claimed was “riddled with abuse”, needed fundamental change.

Despite these measures, Mr Jenrick acknowledged that the backlog of asylum cases, which Mr Sunak had vowed to eradicate this year, had reached a record high of more than 150,000.

The Home Office predicts that detention centres, accommodation costs and removals will require between £3 billion ($3.74 billion) to £6 billion to effectively manage the issue of small boat crossings.

The Conservatives are struggling with the issue of legal migration, which soared to a record high of 606,000 people last year, despite Tory pledges to reduce it.

Mr Jenrick conceded that immigration is “far too high today” and that setting targets such as former prime minister David Cameron's 2010 pledge to reduce net migration to below 100,000 may not be “particularly helpful".

During his Kent visit, Mr Sunak is expected to admit that more action is required to control unauthorised crossings.

He will share updates on the number of Channel arrivals, the current asylum case backlog, and efforts to reduce the costly use of hotels for housing migrants.

A recent incident in which 40 asylum seekers refused to enter a London hotel due to overcrowded room conditions raised concern.

Labour's leader of Westminster City Council, Adam Hug, described asking people who have probably experienced significant trauma to share an inappropriately sized room as a failure of “common sense and basic decency".

Mr Jenrick responded to this criticism by stating that single adult males would be asked to share rooms as a measure to decrease hotel dependence, asserting that this was a “fair and reasonable approach".

In addressing the broader system, he said there was a need for “changing fundamentally” how asylum is dealt with in the UK after 13 years of Conservative rule.

Reacting to these statements, Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, criticised Mr Jenrick's “untrue” claims, suggesting that most of those crossing the Channel are later proven to be refugees.

Mr Solomon urged the government to focus on “fixing the problems within the UK asylum system", starting with a genuine commitment to tackling the asylum backlog.

On a positive note, ministers have praised a “landmark” agreement with Albania to repatriate failed asylum seekers and foreign offenders.

But Mr Jenrick conceded that only a few hundred Albanians who arrived on small boats have been returned so far.

As of last year, official figures recorded that 45,000 people arrived on small boats.

As of March, there were 172,758 people awaiting an initial decision on asylum applications, representing a 57 per cent increase from the previous year.

Mr Sunak had pledged in December to “abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions” by the end of 2023, a commitment that is now under scrutiny.

Updated: June 05, 2023, 2:41 PM