Thousands of single male asylum seekers across the country are to be told to share hotel rooms in a push by Rishi Sunak’s government to bring down costs and act as a deterrent to those arriving in small boats.
The decision comes amid a major row over a group of asylum seekers who staged a protest after being forced to give up single rooms at a hotel in Pimlico in central London. The group apparently refused to stay at the Comfort Inn after the Home Office had asked them to sleep “four people per room”.
Ministers will roll out a national policy asking the hundreds of hotels hosting asylum seekers to try to put two, three or four single adult males in one room, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
Asked if it was policy to tell people they have to share four to a room, Mr Jenrick said: “No that’s not right” – before saying single male asylum seekers will be asked to share rooms where possible, calling it a “completely fair and reasonable approach”.
The minister said: “Where we are using [hotels], it’s right that we get good value for money for the taxpayer, so if single adult males can share a room, and it’s legal to do so – which will depend on the size of the accommodation – then we’ll ask people to do that.”
A group of around 20 asylum seekers camped outside the Comfort Inn in Pimlico in protest at the cramped conditions inside. Items scattered on the pavement included suitcases and sleeping bags.
Mr Jenrick said he did not think it was unreasonable to ask the asylum seekers in Pimlico to share rooms – saying “almost all of the migrants in question” agreed to share rooms.
“Some people said that wasn’t good enough and they wanted their own ensuite bedrooms, and the Home Office took the perfectly reasonable view that we’ve got to look after the taxpayer here,” the minister said.
“And if you’re genuinely destitute, of course you’d accept that,” Mr Jenrick added. “Common sense prevailed and, I think, almost all of the migrants in question accepted the accommodation.”
The immigration minister came up with “Operation Maximise” to rationalise the use of hotel rooms for asylum seekers, hoping to save more than £250m this year, according to the Telegraph.
The government is reportedly considering changing rules so landlords of asylum seekers would no longer need to register for a house in multiple occupation licence for up to two years. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has warned they risked putting people “in places that are unfit for human habitation”.
“I will never put the interests of migrants above the interests of the British public,” Mr Jenrick insisted on the BBC on Sunday – saying the use of hotels was “taking away valuable assets from our country and costing billions of pounds”.
But the BBC has obtained government projections that show the cost of detaining and deporting small boat arrivals could hit £6bn over the next two years.
The government plans to house around 10,000 migrants in old RAF airfields in Lincolnshire and Essex, a former prison in East Sussex, and a large barge off the coast of Dorset as part of Suella Braverman’s Illegal Migration Bill.
Mr Jenrick said a “landmark” deal with France to increase patrols had stopped 33,000 crossings last year – a 40 per cent increase on the year before. The immigration minister said “hundreds” of Albanians arriving via small boats have been returned to their home country, while the rest have been accommodated – admitting “some may well have absconded”.
Asked why Albanians were being housed in the UK when the government has a returns deal, Mr Jenrick told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Our system has become riddled with legal processes, which enable people to make spurious last-minute appeals.”
Mr Jenrick said the UK asylum system is “riddled with abuse” and must be changed “fundamentally”.
Jon Featonby, chief policy analyst at the Refugee Council, said the government’s plans were “hugely expensive and unworkable”, adding: “The government should be focusing on creating a system that protects the right to claim asylum and that prioritises both compassion and control.”
When pressed on record high net migration, Mr Jenrick said that immigration targets are not “particularly helpful”, despite previous Tory promises. Asked about David Cameron’s 100,000 pledge, the minister said: “I don’t think that targets like that are particularly helpful because migration is an extremely challenging space where behaviours are constantly changing.”
A government spokesperson said: “Our Illegal Migration Bill will help to stop the boats by making sure people smugglers and illegal migrants understand that coming to the UK illegally will result in detention and swift removal – only then will they be deterred from making these dangerous journeys in the first place.”