The UK Government is being sued by a group of asylum seekers who claim that its policy of allocating accommodation on a no-choice basis violates their human rights. The group, represented by the law firm Leigh Day, argues that the policy fails to take into account the specific needs and preferences of asylum seekers, such as their health, safety, family ties, and access to legal advice.
The policy of no-choice accommodation
According to the Home Office, the policy of no-choice accommodation is intended to provide asylum seekers with accommodation in areas where there is a ready supply, and to avoid placing additional pressure on local services and communities. The policy states that asylum seekers are only offered accommodation in London, the South East, or another specific location if there are exceptional circumstances that justify such a request.
However, the group of asylum seekers challenging the policy claims that the policy is arbitrary, unfair, and discriminatory. They say that the policy does not consider the individual circumstances of each asylum seeker, and that it often results in them being placed in unsuitable and unsafe accommodation, such as former military barracks, ex-Ministry of Defence sites, and vessels. They also claim that the policy prevents them from accessing essential services and support, such as healthcare, education, legal representation, and community networks.
The impact of the policy on asylum seekers
The group of asylum seekers suing the UK Government includes people who have fled from persecution, torture, and violence in their countries of origin, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria. They have shared their experiences of living in no-choice accommodation, and the negative impact it has had on their physical and mental health, well-being, and dignity.
One of the claimants, a 32-year-old man from Afghanistan, said that he was placed in a former military site in Lincolnshire, where he had to share a room with five other men, and had no access to internet, phone, or transport. He said that he felt isolated, depressed, and suicidal, and that he was unable to contact his family, his lawyer, or his doctor. He said that he was also subjected to racial abuse and harassment by some local residents, and that he feared for his safety.
Another claimant, a 28-year-old woman from Iran, said that she was placed in a vessel in Dorset, where she had to share a cabin with three other women, and had no privacy, security, or hygiene facilities. She said that she suffered from severe anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks, and that she was unable to access any counselling or support services. She said that she was also exposed to Covid-19, as there was no social distancing or testing in the vessel, and that she contracted the virus and became very ill.
The legal basis of the challenge
The group of asylum seekers is seeking a judicial review of the policy of no-choice accommodation, and is asking the High Court to declare that the policy is unlawful and incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. The group is relying on several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, such as:
- Article 3, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Article 8, which protects the right to respect for private and family life
- Article 14, which prohibits discrimination on any ground, such as race, religion, or nationality
The group is also arguing that the policy breaches the Equality Act 2010, which requires public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between different groups of people.
The group is supported by several human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, Refugee Action, and Freedom from Torture, who have submitted evidence and statements to the court. The organisations have criticised the policy of no-choice accommodation as cruel, inhumane, and unlawful, and have called on the UK Government to end it immediately.
The response of the UK Government
The UK Government has defended its policy of no-choice accommodation, and has denied that it violates the human rights of asylum seekers. The Government has stated that it is committed to providing safe and secure accommodation for asylum seekers, and that it considers each request for accommodation on a case-by-case basis. The Government has also stated that it has taken measures to improve the conditions and standards of accommodation, such as increasing the frequency of inspections, providing additional funding and support, and ensuring compliance with Covid-19 guidelines.
The Government has also argued that the policy of no-choice accommodation is necessary and proportionate, and that it reflects the operational and practical realities of managing a large and complex asylum system. The Government has stated that it has a duty to ensure that public funds are spent efficiently and effectively, and that it has to balance the needs and preferences of asylum seekers with the availability and suitability of accommodation, and the impact on local communities and services.
The Government has also emphasised that the policy of no-choice accommodation is temporary and transitional, and that it does not affect the outcome of asylum claims. The Government has stated that it is working to increase the supply and diversity of accommodation, and to reduce the reliance on contingency accommodation, such as barracks, sites, and vessels.
The High Court is expected to hear the case in early 2024.