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Tens of thousands of people crossing into the UK via the Channel will be cast into “limbo” in need of government support, as a result of the newly passed Illegal Migration Act, according to a leading think-tank.
The legislation could lead to escalating costs of between £5.64bn and £6.38bn a year to the Treasury within five years, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research released on Monday.
The government has struggled to get a grip of its migration policy after more than 45,000 people crossed into the UK via the Channel last year and a backlog in processing asylum claims hit a new high with 172,000 people awaiting an initial decision on their case in March.
Marley Morris, IPPR associate director for migration, trade and communities, said there was a “very narrow window” for the government’s migration policies to work based on current plans to enforce the Illegal Migration Act and remove asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Under the terms of the act, passed by parliament last month, people arriving in Britain without prior permission will be barred from claiming asylum. The Home Office will then be legally obliged to detain and remove such people either to their country of origin or to a safe third country.
But the act has in effect been halted pending a Supreme Court ruling in coming months on whether the removals agreement the UK has with a “safe third country”, Rwanda, is lawful.
Even with the act fully implemented, the number of people arriving in Britain on small boats will probably outpace removals, the IPPR said.
“This will mean a growing population of people permanently in limbo, putting huge pressure on Home Office accommodation and support systems — plus a risk of thousands of people who vanish from the official system,” said Morris.
Speaking to journalists on Monday, Sunak said he was pleased that the number of migrants crossing into the UK this year via the Channel was down on last year.
But he admitted that it was unlikely he would achieve his aim of “stopping the boats” altogether, one of his five main policy priorities, ahead of a general election next year.
“I also want to be honest with people that it is a complex problem, there is not one simple solution and that it can’t be solved overnight,” he said.
The IPPR said the Home Office would have to triple the rate at which it is processing asylum claims in order to fulfil Sunak’s pledge to clear delays in the system by the end of this year.
The government spends more than £6mn a day accommodating asylum seekers held up in hotels and is now turning to barges and military bases as alternative lodgings. It is also expanding its immigration detention capacity ahead of the legislation coming into force.
The IPPR forecast that should the Rwanda policy be approved, cross-Channel migration would continue and the number of migrants stuck with no hope of gaining status would remain about 200,000 after five years.
The government would be breaching both UK and international law if it deported people back to countries (other than in the European Economic Area and Albania) where they would be at risk of persecution, without first examining the validity of their asylum claims.
The IPPRs findings chime with earlier research by the Oxford Migration Observatory, which has said the act would make it harder for the UK to legally return people to countries, such as India, who might otherwise be deported after their asylum claims were rejected.
The Home Office said the Illegal Migration Act would “help to clear the asylum backlog by allowing us to detain and swiftly remove those who arrive here illegally.”
“We are also on track to clear the ‘legacy’ backlog of asylum cases. It has been reduced by a nearly a third since the start of December and we have doubled the number of asylum decision makers in post over the past two years,” it added.