Use of 50 ‘damaging’ asylum hotels to end by January, confirms minister, as govt looks to cut ‘unsustainable’ costs

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Asylum seekers will be moved out of 50 hotels by the end of January, the immigration minister has confirmed.

Speaking in the Commons, Robert Jenrick said the “exits” would begin in the coming days, with further hotel contracts coming to an end “as we continue to deliver on our strategy to stop the boats”.

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Sky News understands the plan is to clear another 50 hotels in the three months after the January deadline.

However, there are currently no plans to open new sites to move the hotel occupants to, with them instead going to existing alternatives like RAF Scampton.

It comes as the government continues in its attempts to reduce the cost of accommodation housing people who are waiting for a decision on their asylum applications.

But even if 100 contracts are ended, many hotels will still be in use – with reports putting the current number under contract at around 400.

Sky News contacted the Home Office to ask for the exact figure but was told a Freedom of Information request would need to be submitted to obtain the number.

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‘We’re under so much mental pressure’

‘Completely unacceptable’

Mr Jenrick told MPs the “most damaging” impact of illegal migration on local communities came from the use of hotels for asylum seekers – something he said that he, the prime minister and the home secretary all deemed “completely unacceptable and must end as soon as practicable”.

“These hotels should be assets for their local communities, serving businesses and tourists – [and] hosting the life events we all treasure like weddings and birthdays – not housing illegal migrants at unsustainable cost to the taxpayer,” he added.

The government estimates about £8m is being spent each day on hotels for asylum seekers.

According to the House of Commons Library, a total of 47,500 people were in accommodation by the end of March – compared with 9,500 in October 2020.

The Conservatives have attributed this to the rise in small boat crossings in the Channel, and the fallout of the COVID pandemic.

And Mr Jenrick said the ability to end the use of 50 hotels was “a direct result of the progress we have made to stop the boats”, saying the government had developed “among the most comprehensive and robust plans to tackle illegal migration in Europe”.

The number of people who have made the dangerous crossing in 2023 so far sits at 26,116 – 30% lower than at the same time in 2022.

But the figure still remains higher than the four years prior, with the number as low as 299 for the whole of 2018.

Workers return to the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset after what is believed to be a fire drill. The Home Office have said around 50 asylum seekers would board the Bibby Stockholm, with the numbers rising to its maximum capacity over the coming months, despite safety concerns being raised. Picture date: Thursday August 3, 2023.

Change ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to ‘what’s needed’

Opposition parties say the Home Office’s growing backlog of unprocessed asylum applications is to blame for the large number of people being housed in hotels.

Responding to Mr Jenrick’s statement, Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the current backlog stands at 176,000 and the number wasn’t coming down.

Turning to hotels, he attacked the “utter lack of ambition” from the government, adding: “It beggars belief that the minister has the brass neck to come here today to announce, not that the government has cut the number of hotels being used, but that it simply plans to, and by a paltry 12%.

“Is that really it? Is that really the ambition? That there will still be 350 asylum hotels in use at the end of the winter, despite promises last year that they would end hotel use this year?”

Mr Kinnock continued: “Why doesn’t the minister come back to update this chamber when he’s actually achieved something… because at the moment, he sounds like an arsonist who’s burnt our house down but is expecting us to thank him for throwing a bucket of water on it.”

Speaking about the announcement, Liberal Democrat MP and home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP said: “This is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed.

“Every day, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being spent because of the Conservative government’s abject failure to tackle the backlog of asylum claims, while asylum seekers face appalling conditions.”

The government has introduced a small number of alternatives to hotels in recent months, including former military bases and the Bibby Stockholm barge – the latter of which will house up to 500 male asylum seekers.

However, the rollout has not been straightforward.

Local MPs and residents have opposed these sites – and asylum seekers had to be removed from the barge following a Legionella outbreak.

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