No room at the inn? Home Office policies created migrant crisis

As we approach Christmas, ANDREW FISHER suggests that it’s worth recalling something of its true meaning

On the run: what kind of welcome might the fleeing Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus get if they arrived in Croydon in 2022?

Shortly after the birth of Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph and urged him to seek refuge: “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt!” (as the Editor likes me to cite my sources: Matthew chapter 2, verse 13).

Mary and Joseph and the infant baby Jesus were soon fleeing the tyrannical King Herod.

Two thousand years later, the world still has no shortage of authoritarian dictatorships or totalitarian rulers – and consequently, millions of people are still fleeing persecution, war and famine.

In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), God advises how to treat someone fleeing persecution: “He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.”

This week we have learned that all 109 bedrooms at the 4-star Aerodrome Hotel on the Purley Way have been block-booked by the Home Office to be used to house around 140 refugees – including children, some of them infants – who have fled to our shores. This led to cancellation of all the commercial and Christmas party bookings at the hotel.

The Aerodrome is one of at least four Croydon hotels being used to house asylum seekers.

Closed for Christmas: the Aerodrome Hotel cancelled all bookings after the Home Office reserved it for 140 refugees

So why are hotels like the Aerodrome and others across the country being used to house refugees, at a cost of £2.3billion?

In large part because the processing of asylum seekers is subject to massive backlogs – with 140,000 cases yet to determine, some going back years, the delays having been caused as the Home Office has sought to “economise”.

Croydon’s Mayor Jason Perry has said that there are now in excess of 1,000 asylum seekers placed in temporary accommodation in the borough. The Conservative Mayor reportedly met with Tory government immigration minister Robert Jenrick and says that he raised issues of funding and safeguarding. The Mayor, who wants to move more asylum seekers outside of the borough, was accused at a recent council meeting by Woodside Labour councillor Mike Bonello as appearing “uncaring”.

Across the world, more than 100million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. Around half of those are displaced elsewhere within their own country, and 86per cent of those who leave their home country stay in a neighbouring country.

This is why countries such as Turkey and Pakistan count their refugee populations not in the tens of thousands but in the millions. The small state of Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee population in the world, hosting almost 1million refugees at the peak of the Syrian conflict.

For the “why-don’t-they-stay-in-France?” brigade, it is worth remembering that France takes more refugees than Britain.

As does Germany.

As does Spain.

Germany has taken in 605,000 Syrian refugees, 147,000 Afghan refugees and 146,000 Iraqi refugees. The UK took just 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years under its “Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme”.

The contrast between the government’s policies and rhetoric in the past year around Ukrainian refugees, compared with its hostile approach to those from the Middle East and Africa, reveals the deep-seated racism that underpins UK asylum policy.

The reason why Syrian refugees, alongside Iraqi, Afghan and Iranian refugees, often risk their lives and climb aboard small boats to cross the English Channel is simple: there are now no safe and legal routes currently open to get to Britain for people from those countries. “Access to asylum should be based on need and the safe routes we have established, rather than the ability to pay,” Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote recently in a Murdoch rag.

But those “established” safe routes exist only for people from a handful of countries.

For most, the only route to asylum in Britain is via what the government labels “illegal entry” – a fact masterfully elicited from the incompetent Home Secretary by fellow Conservative MP Tim Loughton.

Those refugees who do manage to make it to UK shores and survive the perilous journey are hardly welcomed with open arms. Croydon South MP, Chris Philp, then the immigration minister, showed the full-scale of “compassionate Conservatism” when he accused the people being bundled into the overcrowded and disease-ridden Manston migrant camp in Kent as having “a bit of a cheek” to complain about their conditions.

Manston, on the site of an old Battle of Britain RAF base, was intended by the government to process up to 1,600 migrants per day. But at one point earlier this year, there were at least 4,000 people being held there. Some had been there for more than a month.

Getting here isn’t easy: the government has removed approved ‘safe’ routes for most asylum seekers

David Neal, the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, found that vulnerable asylum seekers were being guarded by untrained security staff, some of whom were using drugs. Inspectors found a series of grave failures including: portaloos overflowing and the waste seeping into tents; children wearing inadequate clothing; overcrowding; and the sharing of blankets, raising serious concerns for the cross-contamination of diseases.

The Refugee Council documented cases of scabies – calling the conditions “inhumane”.

An outbreak of diphtheria killed one migrant and affected 50 others  – but according to the rather less-than-humanitarian MP for Croydon South, they have “a bit of a cheek” to complain about any of this.

It was in 2020, when Philp was relatively new to his ministerial job for “immigration compliance”, that he was mocked for an abject performance in front of the Home Office Select Committee when he was questioned about a series of wild proposals that had been leaked to newspapers.

These included reports that there were discussions about using boats with pumps to generate waves that would push back or even capsize migrant boats. “We don’t have any current plans to do that,” Philp replied meekly.

Philp also refused to rule out the reported possibilities of sending asylum seekers to a remote island or somehow housing them on disused oil platforms in the North Sea.

“It would improve your credibility if you could just rule out some of the completely bonkers proposals,” advised the committee chair, Yvette Cooper, before a Home Office official came to the hapless Philp’s rescue and ruled it out.

Under current immigration rules, asylum seekers are banned from working and are given £8.24 a week, with meals provided at the hotels. Those that live in self-catered accommodation receive £40 a week to cover essentials. It’s hardly the kind of gift-giving generosity engendered in the Christmas story.

For those among us with a more caring attitude towards the new arrivals in our community, Croydon New Communities and Refugee Forum says it urgently needs: baby chairs, winter clothes for all genders and sizes, winter socks, shoes of all sizes, children’s toys.

You can drop off donations at Rosa Parked Cafe, 161 London Road, CR0 2RJ.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I’ll be back in 2023 with my next Croydon column.

Some of Andrew Fisher’s recent columns:


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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5 Responses to No room at the inn? Home Office policies created migrant crisis

  1. David White says:

    This is a good article, as we’ve come to expect from Andrew. But it’s worth noting that the official position of the Labour Party (as put forward by Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer) is no better than that of the Tories. They too have refused to commit to “safe and legal routes” for entry, except in the case of the handful of countries which the Tories also make special provision for.

  2. Jack Griffin says:

    Andrew and I might quibble about the numbers of displaced people in the world, but agree about the very high numbers involved (he cites 100m and must have better numbers from the UNHCR than the rest of us, as it currently states 89.3m on its website https://www.unhcr.org/uk/figures-at-a-glance.html).

    Another 700m people are estimated to live in extreme poverty.

    So far so dispiriting.

    However, and however keen he is to bash HMG over its asylum policy, Andrew does not ask nor answer the implicit question: ‘if not enough, then how many’?

    Possibly to avoid the accusation of being in the grip “deep-seated racism”.

    As above, we might agree that there could be nearly 800m people in the world deserving of succour.

    So Andrew, how many would you take?

    Assuming the answer is not ‘all 800m’, which might conceivably put UK society and infrastructure* under, er, pressure; then it must be ‘some’.

    And if the answer is some, is it a few or many or millions?

    As the Grauniad said of Starmer’s speech to the CBI in November, Labour refuses to answer this hard question:

    “He is reluctant to give any hint he is prepared to turn on the taps and allow thousands of people into the UK, while simultaneously trying to avoid upsetting Labour MPs who are overwhelmingly pro-migration.

    This equivocation was perhaps most telling when he resisted being drawn on whether migration should fall or not, instead arguing against setting “arbitrary numbers”.”

    But until the Labour stops equivocating and is prepared to state “arbitrary numbers” – 80, 800, 800,000 or 800,000,000 – it cannot be said to have a policy on immigration worthy of scrutiny (not one it dares test on the electorate) nor begin to envisage a system to manage it; and thus critcism of Government is just the usual solutions-free cant.

    *”France takes more refugees than Britain.

    As does Germany.”

    UK landmass is 44% of France’s and 68% of Germany’s; while population density in the UK is 44 more people per km2 than Germany and a whoppping 157 more people per km2 than France.

    Not that is an argument against asylum nor immigration, but it reveals the flaws in comparing us to those two countries as we are far from like-for-like.

    • And more of Britain’s land mass is given over to golf courses.

      What does that say about us as a nation, Jack?

      To create a situation which needlessly causes distress, hardship and death to hundreds, if not thousands, is callous.

      A perfect example of Brexit Britain, which has a disturbing level of bile, hatred and racism at its core.

    • Andrew Fisher says:

      Here’s the figures I cited from the UNHCR – 100 million – https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/05/1118772

      Lebanon is much smaller and poorer than us and has taken more, so your implication that the UK takes fewer refugees than France and Germany is because of land constraints is not true.

      It is not a lack of land or money, but compassion that is the biggest barrier.

      Of course we should also stop arming some the world’s most brutal dictatorships, bombing other countries, and restore our aid commitments – that may help too

    • If the British government didn’t support arms sales to oppressive regimes and have economic policies that back oppressors and impoverish people, abroad and at home, you might have a point Jack.

      That is, before we take apart your ludicrous straw man argument about all the world’s poor moving here.

      Or the one about landmass. Germany takes more refugees per km2 or head than the UK, by about 4½ and 5½ respectively.

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