More than 3,000 asylum seekers could be detained and deported from the United Kingdom every month to enforce Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s flagship asylum bill, leaked documents have revealed.
As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced a backlash from Conservative MPs over record levels of net migration, briefing papers have revealed the government has drawn up plans to remove 3,163 asylum seekers every month from January 2024.
According to the Guardian UK, the documents, which focus on the implementation of the illegal migration bill, also make clear ministers could face crippling legal action without a substantial increase in legal aid fees for lawyers who advise refugees.
It is the first detailed glimpse of the scale of the task facing Whitehall if it is to implement Braverman’s bill, which is currently before the Lords. The Home Office has until now refused to release the impact assessment of the bill.
The disclosure came as net migration and the backlog of asylum claims reached record highs.
Sunak was compelled to concede that numbers should fall after figures from the Office for National Statistics showed overall migration into the UK for 2022 was 606,000, which represents a 24% increase on the previous high of 488,000 in 2021.
More than 100,000 people seeking asylum have waited longer than six months for an initial decision on their case, the latest figures showed, while more than three-quarters of all small-boat asylum applications since 2018 are still awaiting a decision.
The leaked documents, marked “urgent”, were prepared this week for Alex Chalk, the lord chancellor, the junior justice minister Lord Bellamy and the Ministry of Justice permanent secretary, Antonia Romeo.
The aim was to ensure there were enough lawyers on hand to provide advice at immigration detention centres if the bill passes into law.
Under the bill, those who arrive in the UK without permission will not be able to stay to claim asylum but will instead be detained and removed, either to their home nation or a third country such as Rwanda.
The documents, prepared using data from the Home Office, say the department should prepare for 1,600 people to be held under the bill in detention centres from September, rising to 3,163 every month from January.
One document said, “Steers are required as soon as possible to engage legal aid provider and – if you agree it is necessary – start implementing fee increases in time for September 2023 when we are expecting to provide access to legal aid to 1,600 individuals (scenario B) and scale to 3,163 individuals a month (scenario C) from January 2024.”
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the documents show that the government, contrary to its claims, is preparing for mass deportations.
He added, “While the government has been rigorously sticking to the line that its new bill would ‘act as a deterrent’, this information shows that it is well aware that vulnerable people will keep arriving in the UK in search of protection.
“It is appalling that it is preparing to lock up and kick out thousands of men, women and children, most of whom would be found to be refugees if their claim was heard on UK soil.”
In the documents, civil servants recommend increasing legal aid fees by at least 15% in order for the government to be able to attract solicitors to represent thousands of asylum seekers. But the document also puts forward a possible increase of 200%, which is not recommended.
Chalk is warned by civil servants that a judicial review could be launched if he fails to provide legal advice to detainees.
The briefing said: “You (lord chancellor) will have a statutory duty to secure that legal aid is available to this cohort … Not addressing capacity issues could mean that there are not sufficient legal aid providers to carry out this work. This could be challenged by way of judicial review.”
According to one document, current hourly rates for immigration solicitors are between £53 and £74. Civil servants held a meeting with specialist firms in the sector who “were clear that unless legal aid rates are substantially increased they would not be able to justify allocation of IMB work in any volume over privately paid casework,” the document said.
Assuming that ministers approved of an increase in fees, the document recommended a 15% increase to up to £86 an hour, which would result in an increase in expenditure on fees from £53m to £61m a year.
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