This is a government response to a report by the Home Affairs Committee on Channel crossings, migration and asylum
Date Published: 28 October 2022
In the Government response the Committee’s recommendations are shown in bold type; the Government’s response is shown in plain type.
1. Migration, including irregular migration across the English Channel, is an issue on which no magical single solution is possible and on which detailed, evidence-driven, properly costed and fully tested policy initiatives are by far most likely to achieve sustainable incremental change. (Paragraph 2)
The Government is committed to tackling illegal migration and stopping dangerous small boats crossings. Despite the press notice accompanying this report suggesting otherwise, the Government has repeatedly warned there is no silver bullet.
While the Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda is important to achieve our objectives, it is only one element of our plan to tackle illegal migration. And there were dozens of new measures made available via the Nationality and Borders Act.
We have three very clear objectives: to increase the fairness and efficacy of our system so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum; to deter illegal and dangerous routes of entry to the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger; and to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.
2. While we agree with the Home Secretary that the asylum system is broken, we invite her to make it clear, given the long-term and growing pressures on the system, that it was not migrants crossing the Channel who broke it. (Paragraph 14)
The Government is committed to fixing the broken asylum system which now costs the taxpayer £2bn a year to operate including over £5m a day on hotels.
The high number of migrants making illegal and dangerous journeys across the channel, rather than claiming asylum in the first safe country they reach, means that intake remains higher than in recent years. In the year ending June 2022 there were 63,089 asylum applications, 77% more than in 2019 and in the same period there were 35,356 small boat arrivals. It is clear that the large number of arrivals, often concentrated into single 24-hour periods, puts intense pressure on the asylum system.
The rise in the number of migrants arriving in the UK from Albania—a manifestly safe country—is of particular concern. Modern Slavery referrals more than doubled between 2017 and 2019 and 98% of those referred after being detained for removal were released. Through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the Government introduced measures to test the credibility of those who make late claims related to modern slavery using robust systems to ensure that we can support genuine victims while making sure that the system is not misused.
3. Addressing the asylum ‘work in progress’ caseload must be the Department’s highest priority within asylum operations. Doing that would unlock substantial resources, reduce current pressures on contingency and institutional accommodation and enable wider system reform including communities’ capacity to welcome—even sponsor—refugees. (Paragraph 17)
Our highest priority in this area is to deter and reduce illegal migration, including small boat crossings. At the same time we are working to speed up decision making and reduce costs and pressure on the overall system.
Our asylum transformation programme aims to bring the system back into balance and modernise it. It is focused on increasing productivity by streamlining, simplifying, and digitalising processes to speed up decision making to increase efficiency and output. We are increasing the use of technology, improving screening so that more information is captured as early as possible, and have introduced accelerated decision-making procedures including shorter interviews and decision templates.
Following the implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act we introduced a new model on 28 June which has enabled new asylum claims to be processed efficiently, as well as provide dedicated focus on working through claims made under the previous policy.
We established an Asylum Action Group in May 2022 to further identify how we can rapidly improve productivity and reduce the work in progress and will roll out the most impactful measures over the coming months.
We currently employ c.900 decision makers, and our recruitment continues. Our investment in people will have an impact on, and speed up, processing times. While decision maker retention continues to be risk, given that it can take up to 12 to 18 months for a decision maker to become fully proficient in their work; we are putting in place a range of interventions, including looking at job design, reward, management capability to reduce attrition, and reducing the time to be fully trained.
4. The Government should accept the UNHCR’s support for the challenge of rebuilding an efficient and fair asylum system in the UK, and its practical suggestions for operational improvement. The Government should work with the UNHCR to assess the feasibility of proposals including measures to improve the registration, screening and triaging of cases. The Government must urgently consider what further steps may be taken to prioritise unaccompanied children’s claims, as set out in the Immigration Rules, and to reduce case-handling times for those children. (Paragraph 18)
The Government has a long-standing relationship with the UNHCR through the Quality Protection Partnership (QPP), which has existed in one form or another since 2004. Its aim is for the UNHCR to assist the Home Office to develop better processes, operational policies and instructions to ensure high quality first-instance decision making through the monitoring of refugee status determination procedures and the application of the 1951 Refugee Convention criteria. This includes supporting the Home Office’s continuing development and integration of quality assurance mechanisms relating to international protection and improving the quality of first instance asylum and other relevant decision-making.
Under the QPP, we have an annual workplan addressing various aspects of the end-to-end asylum process. One of the large workstreams in the last couple of years has been entitled ‘Screening, Intake and Triage’. For this workstream, UNHCR produced a detailed desk review which considered a large volume of guidance, policy, caselaw and practice as well as the various Standard Operating Procedures relating to screening. UNHCR also conducted nine observational visits to eight screening locations, which included direct observation of many live screening interviews, as well as individual interviews and focus groups with a full range of personnel. Further, UNHCR conducted a casefile audit.
Following on from this, the Home Office and UNHCR have agreed to include a ‘screening’ workstream on this year’s (2022/2023) QPP Workplan. We are currently undertaking inception meetings to discuss and agree the Terms of Reference. More broadly, we have also agreed that UNCHR will work in close conjunction with Asylum and Protection Transformation colleagues on all aspects of asylum process improvement and that this collaboration will be included as a specific Workstream under the QPP. Again, we are currently in the process of agreeing the terms of this.
In May 2021 the Department established two dedicated case working Hubs for deciding children’s asylum claims which are now fully operational. One in Solihull (with responsibility for Local Authorities in the Midlands, East of England and the Southwest of England), and one in Liverpool (with responsibility for Local Authorities in the North of England, Croydon and Kent). Both sites share responsibility for London and Southeast England Local Authorities.
The hubs have established improved focus on and greater control of cases to build expertise, identify efficiencies and provide a consistency of decision making (and quicker outcomes). This includes continuing to decide cases on the papers where there is sufficient evidence to do so.
We continue to work collaboratively with Local Authorities nationally on the remote interview process for Accompanied and Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children and young people utilising digital interviewing video capabilities to complement in person interviews. Since May 2021 we have increased Local Authority opt in for digital interviewing to 108 Local Authorities helping to speed up processes, reduce delays and the numbers of children and young people who have an outstanding claim. More Local Authorities are expected to sign up to the remote interview process, given the tangible benefits it provides.
We are continuing to recruit additional decision-makers who will be trained to process children’s asylum claims.
It is still the case that many of the additional procedural protections that exist when processing children’s asylum claims will have an impact on the time taken to make final decisions in individual cases. This means that prioritisation does not necessarily reduce the overall case handling times.
5. The visibility of small boat crossings of the English Channel should not prevent our remembering that migrants also use ferries, planes, trains and vehicles to enter the United Kingdom irregularly and by clandestine means. The rapid increase in the proportion of people making the dangerous journey across the Channel may suggest, however, that security improvements made by the French and UK authorities in northern France is displacing traffic from those routes into small boats. We agree with the Permanent Secretary that any policy that closes down small boat immigration by inadvertently creating something even more dangerous would be a pyrrhic victory and reiterate the necessity for the Government fully to develop, test and risk assess any such policy before it is announced. (Paragraph 21)
The Government monitors closely all forms of illegal migration and is alert to the potential for displacement across different types of entry. Most preventative activity is threat-agnostic and will target criminal facilitators involved in different types of illegal migration. The capabilities we have built up in response to Channel crossings can be repointed to most shifts in the nature of the threat.
6. We recommend that the UK Government continue to prioritise close, collaborative working with the French authorities, including provision of equipment and intelligence that may help disrupt organised criminal gangs that profit from the misery and desperation of migrants. An intelligence-led approach remains the best way to identify the activities of such gangs and prevent their continuing exploitation of vulnerable people. (Paragraph 31)
7. The greatest deterrent to perilous crossings of the channel on unseaworthy vessels with actively dangerous ‘life-jackets’ would be to prevent such crossings ever leaving France. Alternatively the French authorities with or without British assistance could intercept the boats once in French territorial waters and return them to French land whence they started their journey, as international maritime lawyers advised us they were legally entitled to do. This would soon have the deterrent effect at preventing people risking a dangerous and expensive round trip to and from French beaches but the French Government refuses to countenance such a policy. We believe that discussions with the French as to what it would take for them to change this policy are essential. Creation of a safe and legal route for those who might successfully seek asylum in the UK having passed through the European continent could provide such a disincentive and deterrent, though that would not necessarily apply to those seeking to come to the UK with a very weak case for being accepted as an asylum seeker here. (Paragraph 32)
The cross-Government effort against these dangerous, unnecessary, and illegal Channel crossings continues to prioritise close working with France and other near-border countries, to prevent launch attempts and break the business model of smugglers. This includes ever-closer operational, law enforcement and intelligence cooperation. The goal is to ensure that boats can be prevented from leaving in the first place; and that French authorities have the resources and information they need to intercept these dangerous journeys before they reach the median line or the traffic separation scheme.
The Home Office continues to co-operate closely with the French Government on illegal migration to end dangerous journeys across the Channel with the intention to conclude a package of measures this Autumn.
We also continue to explore options to deter crossings through engagement with countries of origin as well as countries of transit on migrants’ journeys towards the French coast. The UK will be joining together with international partners from near neighbour countries to agree to take collective action to tackle the issue of illegal migration.
8. We therefore recommend that the Government enter into discussion with the French Government on providing UK asylum assessment facilities within France, enabling juxtaposed consideration of claims in the same way that juxtaposed checks of passports and customs are carried out for Eurostar and Eurotunnel crossings or for ferries to and from Dover, and on the basis that France remains responsible for those people whose UK asylum claims are not successful. We acknowledge that this is a contentious issue between the UK and French Governments and would need firm assurances that any migrants whose applications were rejected by UK authorities must be detained and removed so that they would not simply return to the French coast, but this could be run as a pilot initially. (Paragraph 33)
The UK has a proud record of providing protection for individuals who need it, in accordance with our obligations under the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It is worth noting that the remit of the ECHR has been expanded over time by the Strasbourg Court (as the Committee will be aware, the ECHR was never designed to deal with migrants, that was left to the Refugee Convention drafted at the same time). However, we could not possibly consider protection claims from the very large numbers of individuals overseas who might like to come to the UK, and that includes from our juxtaposed controls. Whilst we sympathise with individuals in many difficult situations around the world, those who need international protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach – that is the fastest route to safety. Indeed, this suggestion implicitly recognises many of those on the move are not true asylum seekers but are economic migrants hoping to move to the UK, many by irregular means.
Additionally, the responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees lies with the authorities of the country in which they are present in accordance with their international obligations – in this case France. EU countries, which include France, together operate the Common European Asylum System; a framework of rules and procedures based on the full and inclusive application of the Refugee Convention. The aim of this system is not just to ensure fair and humane treatment of applicants for international protection, but also to discourage secondary movements of individuals once they have reached safety, acknowledging the many problems that such movements create. There is therefore no reason why an individual who is in France and who needs protection should not make and have their claim processed in France by the French authorities, and certainly no reasons why they should make the perilous onward journey to the UK. France is a safe country, so the protection they seek is already available to them.
France is a sovereign nation and may not support any scheme operated by the UK Government which encourages more migrants to cross into its territory. Furthermore, the UK Government creating asylum assessment facilities in France could also have the potential to create more harm, and actually support the smugglers, even if France retained responsibility for unsuccessful UK asylum claims. Dangerous journeys and the work of the despicable smugglers are not just confined to routes across the Channel. Vulnerable individuals, if they have an incentive to aim for France as a means of entering the UK, would be encouraged to make dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean and over land to France. It would create a new pull factor, motivating individuals to again entrust themselves to smugglers. Even where they may avoid the danger of a small boat, we know from heart breaking experience that journeys over land, for example in the back of lorries, can be equally as perilous. We cannot and must not do anything which supports the smugglers’ business model.
The UK and France already have a strong partnership on the issue of illegal migration and are committed to continuing to work together to address our shared challenge of illegal migration jointly, and to make the small boats route unviable. A bilateral arrangement was reached between the UK and France on 20 July 2021, where the UK pledged to make a further financial investment of €62.7 million (approximately £54 million) in 2021/22 to tackle illegal migration and small boats. Some of this funding was used to invest in reception centres dedicated to providing support to migrants across France and removal centres for voluntary returns to countries of origin where appropriate, safe and legal. Supporting migrants into appropriate and safe accommodation in France and enabling them to access the asylum system there will also serve to take them out of the hands of criminal gangs.
Our focus will remain on helping individuals directly from regions of conflict and instability as opposed to enabling juxtaposed consideration of asylum claims from France. Our resettlement schemes have provided safe and legal routes for tens of thousands of individuals to start new lives in the UK. The UK welcomes individuals at risk through the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS), Mandate Resettlement Scheme, Community Sponsorship and the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme. Taken together with our Hong Kong British National Overseas schemes, these safe and legal routes have seen over 300,000 people offered sanctuary in the United Kingdom since 2015. This commitment, alongside a fair and firm asylum system, will ensure we continue to offer safe and legal routes to the UK for those in need of protection. Further information on our resettlement schemes is available on GOV.UK at: .
Additionally, in response to the Ukraine crisis, this government has introduced two new schemes: the Ukraine Family Scheme (UFS), and for those without family links to the UK, the Homes for Ukraine (HFU) Scheme. Further information on the Ukraine schemes is available on GOV.UK at: .
There are additional safe and legal routes for individuals to come to the UK should they wish to join family members here, work or study. They would need to meet the requirements of the relevant Immigration Rule under which they were applying to qualify for a visa. Details about the criteria and how to apply are available on GOV.UK at: .
9. The National Crime Agency should continue to pursue national and international operations to identify and prosecute smugglers and participate in global initiatives to crack down on the use of social media and international communications by smugglers. (Paragraph 38)
The National Crime Agency (NCA) continues to prioritise operations to tackle Organised Immigration Crime, working closely with partners in the UK and overseas. This includes investigating, prosecuting, and disrupting organised crime groups utilising the online environment to carry out their criminal activity.
10. The Home Office should urgently review lessons learned from the response to migrant crossings since January 2018. The review should focus on intelligence collection, risk assessment and how information is reported to Ministers and used to inform policy. The Home Office should report in its formal response to this Report on how this review will be taken forward, its staffing and objectives. The review’s outcomes should be reported to us within 10 weeks of publication of its formal response to this Report. (Paragraph 40)
Given the evolving nature of the operational challenges in the Channel, the Government keeps the operational plan to tackle small boat crossings under constant review. Learnings from past operations inform our current approach. We are reluctant to publish comprehensive operational detail or strategy that could be used to inform the tactics, or otherwise advantage, the smuggling gangs.
11. We welcome the joint action plan between the National Crime Agency and major social media companies to hinder organised immigration crime and urge the Government to persuade more social media providers to participate in action aimed at preventing trafficking and saving lives, though given the previous experience of the Committee in securing assurances from social media companies, the Government will have to keep on their case relentlessly. This consideration will have to be dealt with in the Online Harms Bill currently before Parliament. (Paragraph 44)
The NCA welcomes the Committee’s support for the joint action plan. We are working closely with social media companies to prevent their platforms being exploited to recruit, communicate, and advertise organised immigration crime. The action plan announced in December has resulted in more than 1,600 posts, pages or accounts advertising organised immigration crime services being removed from platforms. However, the NCA recognises that there is more to be done and we are committed to further increasing our impact against the threat.
12. Further clarity is required on precisely what difference the assumption of operational responsibility for migrant crossings in the Channel by the Royal Navy (rather than Border Force) is intended to achieve and what measure of success will be applied when these arrangements are reviewed in January. We invite the Home Office to provide that clarity in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 47)
There is a whole of Government effort against these dangerous and unnecessary crossings. It is right and proper that we make the fullest possible usage of Government resources, including the MOD’s unrivalled capability for Command, Control and Co-ordination of operational responses.
Since April 2022, the MOD has had operational primacy for action in the Channel (Operation ISOTROPE), which has strengthened operational planning, asset coordination and operational delivery. Border Force has welcomed the assistance provided through Defence primacy in increasing skills and capability, enhancing control and co-ordination to optimise all available assets, expertise, and experience, to manage Channel migration by identifying and intercepting those attempting small boats crossings so that they are unable to arrive in the UK on their own terms. The aim of Defence operations is to ensure that individuals cannot arrive in the UK on their own terms and assist with assuring the safety of life at sea.
In addition to control and co-ordination, military involvement has provided additional personnel and maritime vessels in the short term, allowing time for Border Force to build up capabilities to deal with the increased migrant crossing attempts being seen throughout 2022.
The Home Office retains overall responsibility for the security of the UK border and illegal migration policy, including the plan to fix the UK’s asylum and immigration system. Border Force supports the response to small boat crossings where needed, alongside other maritime threats.
A number of factors will be considered when reviewing arrangements towards the end of 2022. The Home Office continues to focus on building capacity to maintain the enhanced resources and effort that the MOD has brought.
13. There is a worrying trend in Home Office policy announcements being made before detailed policy has been worked through, tested and even agreed between Government Departments, as exemplified by early announcement both of military control of channel operations and the Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda. We recommend that the Home Office seek to delay announcing new policy initiatives on channel crossings until sufficient detailed planning has been done to substantiate the chances of their success against the underlying strategic goals. (Paragraph 48)
The Committee is wrong to suggest policies the Government announces on preventing channel crossings have not been worked through or agreed between departments.
The former Prime Minister’s announcements relating to military primacy in the channel and our Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) with Rwanda were made following extensive discussions and agreement across Government.
The MEDP, in particular, was the culmination of around 18 months’ work across Government and with our international partners.
Illegal migration is a global issue which requires world-leading solutions, with many countries struggling to address the challenges and the causes. We are confident that the Migration and Economic Development Partnership fully complies with all international and national law and can be successfully replicated internationally.
We note that many countries looked to the decisive leadership shown by the UK, including Denmark who continue to work with Rwanda to enhance cooperation on migration issues. We look forward to working closely with our partners in Europe and beyond. Renewed global leadership is required to find new innovative solutions to this growing problem and the UK is leading the way.
14. We note that the Government no longer intends to pursue a policy of pushing boats back to European countries. We urge the UK Government to continue instead to press the case for enhanced information-sharing and close co-operation with European governments and agencies. In particular, the Government should seek to investigate the potential for, and likely effectiveness of, joint maritime patrols as a means of dealing safely with migrants in the Channel. (Paragraph 55)
15. Given widely expressed concerns about the practicality and safety of a pushback policy, we think it right that the policy has been dropped: it is hard to see how the benefit of such a manoeuvre as an active deterrent could outweigh its potential costs in the form of risk to migrants’ and officials’ lives and damage to the UK’s reputation. (Paragraph 56)
The Government already works closely with a variety of European countries, as well as with partners upstream, on border security. Our intention is to deepen that work— including in areas referenced by the Committee—wherever possible. Discussions to do so are underway with a range of partners.
16. The Government’s stated purpose of the Migration and Economic Development Programme with Rwanda is to deter people from seeking to arrive in the UK by irregular means. It is not clear as yet whether it will have that effect. We invite the Government to set out its evidence base for assuming such an effect in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 65)
As a new policy, with the first relocations yet to take place, there is less evidence to draw on than in other policy areas and the desired deterrent effect that the MEDP seeks to achieve cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty at this early stage in isolation from wider efforts to tackle small boat crossings. Until relocations are operational, we would not expect to achieve any sustained deterrent impact from the policy. However, it stands to reason that for those willing to pay smuggling gangs thousands of pounds to facilitate a dangerous and illegal journey to the UK, the probability of relocation to Rwanda at the end of that journey, will prove a deterrent.
This has been the historic experience of other countries, such as Australia who used a suite of measures including offshoring to prevent small boat arrivals and can be considered to have been successful in preventing illegal maritime arrivals and preventing unnecessary deaths at sea.
We are currently working on developing a monitoring and evaluation plan which will look to assess its effectiveness as well as the medium and long-term impacts. We will set out more details on this in due course. However, there are a range of policies we have introduced which we anticipate will impact numbers of irregular migrants arriving in the UK, including a suite of measures, such as increasing the maximum sentence for those facilitating illegal entry, intended to break the business model of people smugglers while maintaining a fair and robust immigration and borders system.
These policies are also intended to support the Government in its objectives of preventing tragic loss of life in the Channel and maintaining public trust and confidence in border controls. In the meantime, we are closely monitoring small boat arrivals and the Home Office publishes statistics each quarter.
17. The Home Office must provide more detailed costings for its Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, including estimates of the likely cost within the current financial year of relocations and probable costs of relocations during the full five years of the programme. (Paragraph 66)
The MEDP is a long-term policy which is expected to last for at least five years. Costings and payments will depend on the number of people relocated, the timing of when this happens, and the outcomes of individual cases.
As set out to the Committee on 22 June, and as per Managing Public Money guidance, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office will provide an updated Accounting Officer (AO) note if our evaluation of the Programme against the four tests changes, or if the Programme deviates materially from the agreed plan which informed the Accounting Officer’s previous approval.
We expect to provide an updated AO Note ahead of the next financial year taking into account the additional data we would expect to have available (such as number of transferees, number of legal challenges, level of crossings etc). A summary of the AO note will be published once it has been updated. The most recent note resulted in the Ministerial Direction as published at: .
As part of the partnership, the UK is investing an initial £120 million into the economic development and growth of Rwanda. The UK has also made a £20m upfront payment to the Government of Rwanda to support initial set up costs. Funding will also be provided to support the delivery of asylum operations, accommodation, and integration. Every individual’s needs are different, and funding will only be provided while an individual remains in Rwanda.
Actual spend will be reported as part of the annual Home Office Reports and Accounts in the usual way. However, providing full details of the funding arrangements at this stage would be prejudicial to interests of the UK government, weakening our ability to negotiate future deals with other nations. It would also likely be against the interests of the Government of Rwanda to disclose this information should they also wish to enter further partnerships.
On 14 June, we aimed to relocate the first people from the UK, who arrived here through dangerous and illegal means, to Rwanda. Many and various claims to prevent relocation were brought forward but the decisions of our domestic courts, the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court upheld our right to operate the flight.
However, hours before the flight was set to depart, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg granted an interim measure (Rule 39 Order) in the case of one of the individuals set to be removed. Following this, three other individuals who were due to be removed made similar appeals to the Court of Appeal and were granted domestic injunctions as a result of the Rule 39 Order given to the first individual (simultaneously the ECtHR also granted Rule 39s to two of those three, which expired two weeks later). We therefore removed people from the flight.
While we are unable to comment on matters currently before the courts, it is important to note that no court has actually ruled that this partnership is unlawful. The Judicial Reviews on the MEDP continue and we expect a judgment later in the Autumn. In the meantime, we continue to prepare for delivery.
18. The Home Office must also set out what steps it is taking to ensure that the mental and physical wellbeing of those who are relocated to Rwanda is secured for the long term. The agreement with Rwanda implies that the UK will have no responsibility for people relocated once they have arrived in their new accommodation, who will have no right of return to the UK. The UNHCR is strongly of the view that such responsibility does remain with the UK Government even once it has relocated people elsewhere. Given the lessons of the Australian experience, this carries a significant reputational risk for the UK, and we seek assurances that the Government will actively monitor the accommodation, health and educational outcomes achieved for those who are relocated after seeking refuge or a future in this country and details of how that monitoring will be conducted and what actions will be taken in the event of any failure to deliver safe and secure new lives. (Paragraph 67)
While in the UK, everyone eligible for relocation under the MEDP is asked if they wish to make representations and will have access to legal advice before a decision is made. Detained individuals are advised of their right to legal representation, and how they can obtain such representation, within 24 hours of their arrival at an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC). Nobody will be relocated to Rwanda if it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so.
Once in Rwanda, relocated persons will have the opportunity to make an asylum claim and be informed of the process for doing so. They will have full access to translation services and will be able to access legal support to appeal decisions in Rwanda’s courts. Those relocated will be given a generous support package, including up to five years of training, accommodation, and healthcare. The Rwandan authorities will provide the necessary support to ensure the health, security, and wellbeing of the relocated individuals. This includes safe and clean accommodation, food, healthcare, and amenities, including mental health support services, and will not be charged a fee for the access to such necessary services.
This is different to the ‘offshore processing’ approach taken by Australia as under the MEDP the responsibility for the welfare and wellbeing of individuals relocated to Rwanda will sit with the Government of Rwanda. While the MEDP is different to the model used by Australia and Nauru, we note that Australia’s experience of third country processing can be considered to have been successful, as part of a wider strategy, in preventing illegal maritime arrivals and preventing unnecessary deaths at sea.
As set out in the Memorandum of Understanding, the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda have worked together to create an MEDP governance framework. The Joint Committee, will retain oversight of the MEDP, including the continued implementation of assurances in the Memorandum of Understanding and to address potential issues that arise through the operation of the partnership. In addition, a dedicated Monitoring Committee is now in place. The terms of reference and membership of the Monitoring Committee are published at .
The Committee will provide an independent assessment of the end-to-end process of the MEDP and ensure that the assurances provided in the Memorandum of Understanding are being fulfilled. This will include assessment of the accommodation, health and educational provisions provided to relocated individuals on an on-going basis.
19. Following the Minister’s admission that from January to November 2021 the UK returned only five people who had arrived on small boats, it is clear that the UK’s arrangements for the return of failed or inadmissible asylum seekers to Europe have collapsed. We consider that there is no prospect of the promised bilateral deals with former EU partners. The Government must pursue an agreement with the EU on responsibility for asylum seekers who arrive in the UK from another EU country as the most effective and transparent way to deal with returns for irregular migration across the Channel. (Paragraph 76)
We will continue to seek to return or remove inadmissible asylum seekers to the safe country of connection or the safe country in which they were present before claiming asylum in the UK, or to any other safe third country.
Clearly where individuals have passed through a safe EU country en-route to the UK, they should have claimed protection there. The ability to return to Europe asylum seekers whose claims are inadmissible is a critical deterrent that will help break the business model of smugglers, including those facilitating dangerous crossings of the Channel. The Dublin Regulation does not work as effectively as it should, and was not a panacea when we were part of it. For example, in our last three years of membership, there were 10,600 illegal crossings to the UK—all from migrants who had passed through safe EU countries —of which only 287 were successfully transferred out via the regulations.
The Government remains committed to securing effective returns arrangements bilaterally with EU Member States—as set out in the UK-EU Joint Political Declaration of 31 December 2020—or at EU-level. Illegal migration is a shared challenge, and we continue to press the EU to work with the UK to reach shared solutions, however this relies on the willingness of our European partners to engage and cooperate to solve the problem collectively.
20. It is surprising that the Home Office does not routinely collect information on why asylum seekers and other migrants seek to journey to the UK. We recommend that it begin to do so, to form a sound evidence basis for future policy-making. (Paragraph 94)
As part of the asylum screening process, claimants are currently asked why they have chosen to claim asylum in the UK, but there is currently no way to produce robust quantitative statistics from this. A project is underway to automate the extraction of text information from existing transcripts which could feed into a future project to analyse why asylum seekers have chosen the UK and the UK’s pull factors.
Notwithstanding that project, it is clear from the asylum interviews we undertake a migrant’s aspiration (push and pull factors) and capability to migrate can fluctuate and will vary across and within different groups. Those push factors range from genuine persecution, conflict and war to interpersonal conflict, employment opportunities and the pull factors ranging from safety and refuge through to family ties, language, an existing diaspora and economic stability and earning potential. For many, the balance of factors is shaped by their country of origin – with the largest group at present from Albania, a safe country and prospective EU member. We also recognise that migrants also make decisions based on their perceptions, which may not reflect reality.
21. We welcome the Government’s investment in migrant support centres across France, which may help to assure migrants that there are safe and accessible asylum options for them in mainland Europe. We urge the Government to consult authorities and organisations working with the migrants to understand what support is most needed to achieve this objective and how, and by whom, information about options in Europe might best be communicated. (Paragraph 96)
The Home Office is committed to communicating to migrants the safe and legal options available to them, to discourage dangerous journeys to the UK from safe countries. In developing communications, the Home Office draws on available insight, including working closely with colleagues in France and Belgium on the most effective methods to communicate this information. Research is also underway with organisations working with migrants (such as charities and NGOs) to understand the best channels for direct communication to migrants.
22. The Government should work with the French authorities to consider the feasibility of a programme of investment in trained child protection workers to work with vulnerable child migrants along the French coast. In line with our own previous recommendation from 2018, the Government should ensure that provision is made for an unaccompanied minor who has a family member in the United Kingdom, who is a refugee or has been granted humanitarian protection, to have at least the same reunion rights with family members in the United Kingdom as they had before the UK left the EU. (Paragraph 99)
The UK and France continually discuss the response to illegal migration and important aspects of collaboration. France is a sovereign state, and therefore is responsible for providing support to those in French jurisdiction who may seek to claim asylum, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). We continue to keep the situation under review and will always highlight any risks the UK government foresees to our French partners including on different cohorts of migrants.
A bilateral arrangement was reached between the UK and France on 20 July 2021, where the UK pledged to make a further financial investment of €62.7 million (approximately £54 million) in 2021/22 to tackle illegal migration and small boats. Some of this funding was used to invest in reception centres dedicated to providing support to migrants across France and removal centres for voluntary returns to countries of origin where appropriate. Supporting migrants into appropriate and safe accommodation in France and enabling them to access the asylum system there will also serve to take them out of the hands of criminal gangs. Within these French centres, individuals are provided with medical and administrative support. Going forward, the Home Office will continue to co-operate closely with the French Government on this important issue.
UASC with family members in the UK can apply to join eligible sponsors under existing Immigration Rules. The existing Immigration Rules already make provision for a child to be reunited with a parent in the UK either under the Refugee Family Reunion Rules or via Appendix FM - depending on the immigration status of the parent.
In addition, paragraphs 319X and 297 of the Rules are extremely flexible provisions that already allow for children to apply to join a wide range of adult family members who are not their parents, if the relevant requirements are met. Under these Rules, we do not restrict the types of family members eligible. The requirements are that there are serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable; suitable arrangements have been made for the child’s care and those relatives can adequately maintain and accommodate the child without recourse to public funds. Furthermore, we recognise that some applicants do not meet the current Rules but, in some cases, there will be exceptional circumstances which warrant a grant of leave. These rules existed alongside the UK’s participation in the Dublin Regulation.
The Dublin Regulation, which we are no longer a part of, created more favourable family reunion provisions for unaccompanied children in Europe who had family links in the UK. This was clearly unfair and may have encouraged vulnerable children to make what are often dangerous journeys to Europe to benefit. Our single global approach to family reunion can be accessed by unaccompanied children anywhere in the world and does not encourage dangerous journeys into Europe which plays into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people and goes against our safeguarding responsibilities.
23. The Government has a statutory safeguarding responsibility for the welfare of children in the asylum system: these concerns must be addressed as a priority, and there remains clear discrepancies in procedures about whether the Home Office or local authority takes lead responsibility for the safeguarding of minors and how the two bodies work complementarily. In particular, we request that the Government include in its response to this report a summary of changes made to Home Office safeguarding processes in consequence of the review referred to by Abi Tierney, in evidence on 2 December 2020. (Paragraph 113)
Local authorities are responsible for the protection and safeguarding of UASC in their area as set out in the ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ guidance. In a small number of cases, the Home Office has stepped in to temporarily accommodate UASC in hotels while awaiting transfer via the National Transfer Scheme to a local authority.
It is the duty of government and society as a whole to keep children safe – this includes statutory safeguarding partners like local authorities, the police, and health services working together. The children we encounter through the immigration system, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, can be particularly vulnerable and so we must be vigilant to ensure we promptly identify and act where we identify safeguarding concerns.
Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 places a duty on the Home Secretary to make arrangements for ensuring that immigration, asylum, nationality, and customs functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK. This duty applies to all Home Office staff and contractors exercising these functions.
The statutory agencies responsible for safeguarding adults and children are local authorities, health, and police, who share responsibility and accountability. The Home Office however has an important role to play in identifying those at risk and sharing relevant information with statutory agencies so they can fulfil their legal responsibilities.
We continually keep all our processes under review including after any specific incident such as the one Abi Tierney referred to in previous evidence to HASC.
With respect to concerns about age assessment the UK typically receives over 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) per year. However, between 2016-2021 there were 6,177 cases where age was disputed and subsequently resolved, of which 58% were found to be adults.
There are clear safeguarding issues which arise if a child is inadvertently treated as an adult, and equally if an adult is wrongly accepted as a child and placed in accommodation with younger children to whom they could present a risk.
There are currently incentives for adults to claim to be under 18 years old. Unaccompanied children generally receive a greater level of support than adults in several respects, including the accommodation they are provided with, the procedural and substantive treatment of their asylum claims, the arrangements that would need to be made to secure their possible removal and the circumstances in which they can be held in immigration detention.
Our reforms aim to make assessments more consistent and robust from the outset, with any disputed decisions resolved quickly and conclusively. We are establishing a decision-making function in the Home Office, referred to as the National Age Assessment Board (NAAB) which will primarily consist of expert social workers whose task will be to conduct full age assessments, upon referral from a local authority. In addition, we are seeking scientific advice on the use of scientific methods that could represent an additional source of evidence to improve decision-making about a person’s age, which could help to reduce safeguarding risks associated with adults or children being wrongly assessed. A newly established statutory right of appeal will ensure that any challenge to the outcome of an age assessment can be resolved as swiftly as possible.
24. The Government should also commission an independent end-to-end review of the asylum system as it is applied to, and experienced by, children. The report of this review should be published no later than 15 December 2022. (Paragraph 114)
The Government continues to commission and use independent research, alongside collaboration with partner agencies, to inform and evolve our holistic response to supporting children and their needs. The Home Office continues to look at the journey of Asylum-Seeking Children, through a number of different lenses, which include a focus on welfare, safeguarding and child experience. One example of the Department’s commitment to the experience of children and young people has been the introduction of the Young People’s Board which is made up of children and young people who have experienced the Asylum System. This opportunity puts children and young people at the heart of our decision making and our ambitions.
The Government will commit to looking at the current projects and research in progress to determine their suitability in fulfilling the request of the Committee.
27. We have recommended that the Government commission an independent review of children’s experiences of the asylum system. This review should include examination of the support needs for young asylum seekers, including failed asylum seekers, and refugees up to the age of 25 and should assess the cost of providing those services. We encourage the Government also to consider how independent Youth Welfare Officers might be employed to provide immediate social, emotional and practical support to young asylum-seekers and refugees adapting to life in the UK. (Paragraph 126)
The Government is absolutely committed to securing the welfare of all asylum seekers and refugees. This includes unaccompanied children and young adults. The Home Office continues to support conversations on improving the mental health of refugees and asylum seekers including through its National Asylum Seeker Health Steering Group, bringing together representatives the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS, Devolved Administrations and Non-Governmental Organisations.
Social workers for asylum seekers and refugees in the care system including UASC and adult care leavers are best placed to consider how best to support them in line with legislation and best practice. We have no current plans to mandate the use of youth welfare officers in England by local authorities.
In terms of accompanied asylum-seeking children, all Home Office staff and contractors engaging with asylum seekers are trained to adopt a risk-based approach towards potential indications of vulnerability and to refer relevant cases onto the Safeguarding Hub, a dedicated resource assigned to identifying and safeguarding vulnerable asylum seekers. The Safeguarding Hub works closely with the statutory agencies to signpost vulnerable individuals for support with their health and social care needs. Additionally, asylum seekers have full access to the advisory services provided by Migrant Help and UASC can access the Independent Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children Support Service (IUSS) operated by Refugee Council.
25. The disappearance of separated children from hotels, and a continuing absence of clarity over who is responsible for safeguarding in hotels, is extremely concerning. The Government must immediately and clearly confirm where responsibility lies for every aspect of safeguarding children housed in this accommodation. It must also explain what steps it has taken to understand the causes of children’s disappearances from hotel or similar accommodation, and the measures put in place to address them. (Paragraph 119)
Local authorities have a statutory duty to meet the safeguarding needs of unaccompanied children, including their mental health and emotional wellbeing needs.
In a small number of cases where Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) are temporarily accommodated in hotels they are supported with wrap around care, including from professional care workers, social workers, and nurses. Additional local support is provided by local authorities, the NHS, and charities, e.g. rolling registration with GP practices and on-ground support from the Refugee Council. Activity is supported by SACC (Safeguarding Advice and Children’s Champion) a Home Office team led by professional advisers who are registered social workers with extensive strategic and frontline experience in safeguarding the vulnerable. They provide safeguarding advice and assistance in cases where there are concerns over the welfare of an encountered child. This helps to ensure that vulnerable children are identified at the earliest possible opportunity and helps to facilitate access to any safeguarding services to which they are entitled by virtue of their age and assessed needs.
The National Transfer Scheme, the mechanism allowing for the statutory responsibility for caring for UASC to be transferred from an entry local authority to a different local authority, became mandatory for the majority of UK local authorities with Children’s Services on 14 December 2021. The remaining local authorities were directed to participate on 15 February 2022.
Any child going missing is extremely serious, which is why we work closely with local authorities and the police to operate robust missing persons protocols to ensure their whereabouts are known and that they are safe as well as to understand the reasons behind the child going missing.
Social Workers and Team Leaders almost immediately (upon arrival at the hotel) talk to children at higher risk of absconding about trafficking and modern slavery risks. Social workers cover the topic again in regular sessions with young people.
The Home Office have no power to hold the children and they are free to leave the hotels whenever they want. Even local authorities cannot detain children, even for safety, unless they have a very specific court order that is only used in extreme circumstances.
26. Although the Home Secretary stated that changes to the National Transfer Scheme would ensure hotel accommodation for children “will only need to be in place for the shortest period possible” it has now been in operation for more than nine months. This is not acceptable. (Paragraph 120)
The high intake of young people in recent years, particularly because of small boats crossings, has placed unprecedented pressures on the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) and children’s services in local authorities throughout the UK. As a result, and out of necessity with the children’s best interests in mind, some children remain in hotels for the shortest period practicable whilst placements with local authorities are vigorously pursued.
The Government is very grateful for the support from many local authorities who stepped up and provided crucial placements to vulnerable young asylum-seekers under the NTS. However, despite making substantial changes to the voluntary NTS in the summer of 2021, the scheme could not respond to the scale of intake into the asylum system. A national response and participation from a greater number of local authorities was required and, therefore, the Government took the unprecedented step to mandate the NTS.
Since 15 February 2022, all local authorities with children’s services in the UK are directed to participate in the NTS. This means they are required to accept transfers of UASC into their care, providing crucial placements to these children. The Home Office considers a number of factors when transferring children to a local authority including the existing child population, the number of supported asylum seekers, pressures on children’s services, and the best interests of the child. Although the decision to move to a directed NTS has contributed to the scheme’s strongest sustained performance to date, the extremely high intake of UASC means the situation remains extremely challenging. This is why our continued work to end the use of hotels for accommodating all arrivals, and to ensure these young people receive the care placements they are entitled to, is so critical.
Working alongside the Department for Education and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Home Office continues to consider further opportunities to increase the support we provide to the NTS and local authorities. Last year, we provided £20 million of additional funding to local authorities following a joint Department of Education and Home Office consultation. We extended the higher funding contribution rate of £143 per night in relation to a child transferred through the NTS, increased the contribution rate for supporting former UASC care leavers to £270 per week and invited local authorities to bid into a one-off pot of £3m for exceptional costs experienced supporting UASC during financial year 2021/22 with 50 local authorities being awarded funding.
On 24 August 2022, the then Minister for Safe and Legal Migration wrote to all UK local authorities and devolved equivalents with children’s services announcing changes to the NTS. The changes were applied with immediate effect and include; increasing the threshold up to which councils have to accept UASC into their care from the previous level of 0.07% to 0.1% of their general child population, halving the transfer deadline to five working-days for all UASC not currently in the care of a local authority, and for UASC awaiting transfer into local authority care from hotels councils will receive an additional £2000 per child per month for 3 months where a transfer takes place within 5 working days.
It is difficult to project the precise number of expected UASC arrivals going into the autumn and winter months, which saw the highest number of arrivals in 2021. However, we will continue to do all we can to ensure the NTS works effectively, and that we end the use of hotels for asylum seekers in general, and UASC as a particular priority, as soon as possible.
28. Every young asylum seeker should be provided with a trusted and independent adult who is qualified to support their interactions with immigration and asylum processes and who can where appropriate help them to settle in the UK. We welcome the provisions already available in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and pilot arrangements in parts of England and Wales, but greater consistency is needed. The Government should ensure independent legal guardianship is available to all separated children and young people throughout the UK. (Paragraph 127)
Section 48 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 introduced the role of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) to provide an independent source of advice and advocacy for trafficked children. Following the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, ICTAs were renamed Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTGs) in July 2019.
Local authorities are responsible for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area, including child victims of modern slavery.
ICTGs are provided in addition to this statutory support and are an additional source of advice and support for potentially trafficked children, irrespective of nationality, and somebody who can advocate on their behalf.
To date, a staggered approach to roll out has been adopted with robust built- in evaluations along the way to ensure the ICTG Service meets the needs of the vulnerable children it supports. In May 2021, we expanded the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian Service to cover in total two thirds of all local authorities across England and Wales, focussing on the areas of highest need.
The Government is committed to delivering the national rollout of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardianship service as we are required to do by Section 48 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. To date, a staggered approach to roll out has been adopted with robust built-in evaluations along the way to ensure the ICTG Service meets the needs of the vulnerable children it supports.
The purpose of an ICTG is to advocate on behalf of the child to ensure their best interests are reflected in the decision-making processes undertaken by the public authorities who are involved in the child’s care. An ICTG’s advocacy and involvement throughout the decision-making process is intended to ensure the child is protected from further harm, prevent possible repeat victimisation, re-trafficking or going missing, and promote the child’s recovery.
The ICTG Service model provides one-to-one support for children who have no one with parental responsibility for them in the UK via an ICTG Direct Worker and an expert ICTG Regional Practice Co-ordinator for children where there is someone with parental responsibility for them in the UK.
Due to the specialist nature of the ICTG service there is currently no intention to expand the scope to include all young asylum-seeking children in England and Wales.
Regardless of their immigration status, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) can access the same entitlements as any other looked after child. The Department for Education’s statutory guidance on the ‘Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery’ sets out how these children should be cared for.
Local authorities have a statutory duty to meet the needs of their unaccompanied children as a looked after child, including their mental health and emotional wellbeing needs. Statutory guidance also makes clear that, to support these children, social workers should have a broad understanding of the immigration system including the application process and should access specialist asylum and/or immigration legal advice and representation for all unaccompanied children.
29. The Government must ensure that there is enough physical and staff capacity to conduct necessary searches, fingerprinting, identity and initial vulnerability checks consistently on all migrants arriving at Dover before they are transferred to Yarl’s Wood or other Home Office facilities. (Paragraph 137)
30. Fulfilment of this recommendation is likely to require investment in internet connectivity and/or other equipment and resources. Such investment would deliver greater effectiveness in managing safeguarding obligations and support improved communications between staff processing migrants in different units and reduce casework delays later in the decision-making process. (Paragraph 138)
32. The Government must also explain what measures have been put in place to improve communication between Border Force and short-term holding facilities about their capacity to receive migrants. The Home Office should agree minimum notice periods for different numbers of arrivals at holding centres. (Paragraph 141)
The Government takes its responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for those arriving via small boats very seriously.
Over the last 12 months the Home Office has transformed arrangements to control those arriving by small boat. We have moved to a two-site model which sees humanitarian needs prioritised at Western Jetfoil ahead of initial immigration and asylum processing at Manston.
That two-site model has also seen our processes and procedures reviewed and refreshed so that all the required security and identity checks and biometric registration, as well as initial vulnerability and welfare assessments, are carried out sequentially and consistently, and with appropriate assurance mechanisms, ahead of arriving migrants being placed into asylum accommodation or detention if the individual’s circumstances mean there is a realistic prospect of imminent removal or if they are to be prosecuted for relevant offences.
We have increased staffing across Western Jet Foil and Manston by 86% in the last 3 months. By the end of the year we aim to have almost tripled staff numbers
31. We invite the Government to report the outcomes of the review undertaken in response to the ICIBI’s recommendation on screening and induction processes, and its progress with actions arising from that review, in its response to this report. The Government should also learn the lessons of the specific screening failures highlighted by HMIP and the Independent Monitoring Boards in their recent reports and inform us of actions arising from these findings. (Paragraph 140)
The Government would draw the Committee’s attention to the response to the ICIBI’s Report of the December 2021/January 2022 Inspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil which can be found at .
The Government will report in due course on progress being made against other ICIBI and HMIP recommendations.
33. We recognise that this crisis has been building over many years. But this Government’s response, characterised first by inattention and then by poor decision-making, has exacerbated these problems and undermined public confidence in the asylum system and in the management of the border. The issue has not been helped by the perceived reluctance of the French Government to find a solution and work much more cooperatively with UK authorities in intercepting migrants before they reach British territorial waters. (Paragraph 145)
34. We urge the Government to show leadership through redoubling efforts to engage and co-operate with international partners. The provision of safe and legal routes to the UK should be a key part of the Government’s strategy to counter the criminal trade, and this has not yet received the attention it deserves. The Government risks undermining its own ambitions and the UK’s international standing if it cannot demonstrate that proposed policies such as pushbacks, now abandoned, and offshore processing, such as the Rwanda partnership now being legally challenged, are compatible with international law and conventions. (Paragraph 147)
As we set out above, there has been a massive surge in demand on the asylum systems from arrivals on small boats who should have claimed protection in the first safe country they reached rather than make illegal and dangerous crossings of the English Channel. There has also been an unprecedented increase into the National Referral Mechanism, with an increase of 450% referrals between 2014 and 2021 – with many referrals by those crossing in small boats.
We disagree that the Government has not paid sufficient attention to this problem. We remind the Committee that this is a global problem, requiring global initiatives and innovative solutions. We continue to pursue bilateral and multilateral solutions with our French, EU, and other international partners.
No single measure in our plan provides a silver bullet answer to the problems in the current system. Our approach is therefore multi-faceted, cumulatively helping us tackle illegal migration. The Migration and Economic Development Partnership we intend between the UK and Rwanda is just one part of the approach and is built on the shared sense that current conventions for dealing with refugees and migration no longer work, and that we need new approaches, at scale, that give people seeking a better life - an alternative to paying people smugglers and risking their lives.
Attempts to delay implementation of long-awaited reforms to the system were anticipated as we continue to face on-going challenge in our domestic courts. We are confident that the partnership is fully compliant with all national and international law, including the UN Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights.
Seeing the full impact will take time, but we have comprehensive monitoring and evaluation programmes already underway to consider the impact of our policies; and provide any learning so that we can adjust our approach accordingly and build on existing work in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.
We take our international obligations seriously, but illegal economic migration on this scale was not the issue in front of those drafting what are now decades old conventions and this Government has been generous in providing a variety of safe and legal routes for those in genuine need of protection. These include our Global Resettlement Route, Community Sponsorship Scheme, Mandate route, Ukraine Family Scheme, Homes for Ukraine Scheme, Hong Kong (British Nationals Overseas) route and Family Reunion route.
Taken together these safe and legal routes have seen over 300,000 people offered sanctuary in the United Kingdom since 2015 and it would be wrong to suggest this is not a key part of the Government strategy.