Record number of Channel crossings test Conservative government’s handling of migrant crisis – The Irish Times

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has admitted that “not enough” asylum claims are being processed, but defended his Home Secretary Suella Braverman for her handling of Britain’s migrant crisis.

Sunak’s government is struggling to cope with record numbers of migrants crossing the Channel as a backlog in processing asylum applications and soaring emergency accommodation costs have put the Conservative Party’s stance on illegal migration under surveillance.

The crisis led to heated exchanges in the House of Commons between Sunak and Labor leader Keir Starmer who accused the Conservative government of having “lost control” of the asylum system.

Sunak described the migrant crisis in the English Channel as a “serious and growing problem”.

Nearly 40,000 people have crossed the Channel since the start of the year, the highest number since records began being collected four years ago. This compares to 28,526 in 2021 and 8,404 in 2020.

The worsening crisis has centered on an asylum processing center at a disused airfield in Kent where there has been severe overcrowding and outbreaks among the 4,000 people staying at a Manston facility intended for temporarily accommodate only 1,600 people.

The UK government is spending nearly £7m (€8.1m) a day to house asylum seekers in hotels, with the asylum system slowing the processing of claims. Only 4% of migrants who arrived on small boats in 2021 had received a decision on their asylum application.

The Tory’s controversial policy to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, designed to deter others and costing £140m so far, has been stalled by legal challenges.

Starmer on Monday used Braverman’s uplifting admission in parliament that illegal migration was “out of control” and the system was “broken” to ask Sunak: “Who broke it?”

“If the asylum system is broken and its fate has been in power for 12 years, how can it be anyone’s fault but theirs?” asked the Labor leader during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Sunak said his party’s record on migration was that it had ‘delivered Brexit’ and ended the free movement of people, but he admitted ‘not enough’ asylum claims were processed and that the number of officials processing applications would be increased by 80 percent. .

Starmer accused Sunak of making “a dirty deal” with Braverman to back him as prime minister and avoid a general election by renaming her, deepening the migrant crisis.

“So why doesn’t he find a real interior minister, ditch the Rwandan gimmick, crack down on smuggling gangs, end small boat crossings, speed up -he requests for asylum and does he agree to an international agreement on refugees. Start governing for once and take control,” the Labor leader said.

Most people landing on the south coast of England seek asylum. Of those who arrived this year, 93% of arrivals sought government protection.

UK government data shows the UK received more than 60,000 asylum applications in the year to June 2022, with those arriving by small boat accounting for around half of those applications.

The majority of migrants come from Albania, Afghanistan and Iran, Eritrea and Syria. Last year, 75% of people arriving by small boat were men between the ages of 18 and 39.

Immigration lawyers and charities blame the slowdown in asylum processing since 2018 for creating a backlog that has left refugees in limbo for years and driving up costs.

Immigration lawyer Colin Yeo said he had yet to see a credible plan from the UK Home Office to deal with the crisis. He said the British government’s “strange” and “really absurd” suggestions, such as putting wave machines or nets in the channel to prevent migrants from crossing in small boats, had distracted officials from the “nuts and bolts management issues” which would solve the problem.

“People have been warning about the backlog for a few years now and it’s gone really bad. All the media attention has focused on the conditions at one particular camp in Manston, but that’s not a new issue. It’s been happening for a while,” he said.

Yeo said that while Brexit was not a direct cause of a “massive asylum backlog”, it had indirectly contributed by distracting UK head office staff from dealing with the problem, as the overhaul of the asylum system Post-Brexit immigration had “absorbed a lot of internal resources”.

Braverman’s rhetoric during the crisis, describing migrants arriving on the South Coast as an ‘invasion’ earlier this week, has been criticized, with Sunak’s own immigration minister Robert Jenrick saying ministers had the obligation to “choose your terminology wisely”.

“That doesn’t seem like a particularly accurate way to describe what’s going on,” said Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

“It’s not an army. It won’t look like an invasion to most people.