‘Operation Red Meat’ Continues Despite Asylum Crackdown Failures
Sascha Lavin reports on how the Home Office is pursuing flawed migration policies to retain a base of reactionary support – no matter how ill-conceived
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At the end of August, with the leadership election to replace Boris Johnson in full swing, the then Home Secretary Priti Patel announced plans to ‘fast track’ the removal of Albanian asylum seekers crossing the English Channel.
Her policy would curb the “shameful and absurd” number of Albanian asylum claims, she argued – forgetting that her department was accepting more than half of asylum claims made by Albanians every year, believing them to be genuine and justified.
Playing into the sensationalised claims promoted by the right-wing press, including that 40% of people crossing the Channel to seek asylum in the UK are from Albania – a claim that Byline Times has debunked – Patel said that Albanian asylum seekers would be subject to immediate removal.
This week, the Government was forced to U-turn on Patel’s policy, following a legal letter from charity Care4Calais.
“The Government has performed a major climbdown,” its founder Claire Moseley said. “In doing so, they are accepting that people from Albania have the right to make an asylum claim and have it fairly heard. This is a victory for human decency.”
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This is not the first time in the past 12 months – let alone the past 12 years of Conservative rule – when the Home Office has been forced to concede that it does not have a right to carry out certain immigration policies.
In March, the Home Office’s blanket policy of seizing mobile phones from all migrant people entering the UK by small boats was ruled unlawful by a High Court judge – following a story by Byline Times revealing this practice. Almost 2,000 asylum seekers were unable to contact their family and retrieve critical documentation for their asylum claim because their phones were confiscated by the Home Office for months.
The department has also handed out a record number of compensation payments to people who were wrongfully detained in immigration detention centres in the financial year 2021/22. It paid £12.7 million worth of compensation – a £3.3 million jump from the previous year – to people who were detained for too long or who were too vulnerable or ill to be detained, including victims of torture.
In 2016, it was first revealed that the Home Office may have imposed curfews on asylum seekers unlawfully. Some of these curfews, monitored by an electronic tag, had been in place for years.
It is unclear whether the Government is intentionally imposing harsh policies on asylum seekers or whether it has no intention of actually delivering on many of its schemes – instead merely seeking to appeal to its right-wing base.
Indeed, the Government’s flagship ‘Operation Red Meat’ immigration policy – announced in a bid to save ‘big dog’ Boris Johnson – has failed to relocate a single asylum seeker to Rwanda. The controversial policy is currently on hold until its legality is determined by the courts.
Moreover, a recent report by a Government watchdog has raised further concerns about the legality of the policy, detailing how asylum seekers due to be deported to Rwanda were not given adequate legal access or enough information about the plans while detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre.
But far from deterring the Home Office’s ramped-up ‘hostile environment’ policies, the legal challenges appear to be playing into the Conservative Party’s ‘culture war’.
Patel’s criticism of “do-gooder… lefty lawyers” – and her replacement Suella Braverman’s description of judges as “wet liberals” – are part of a years-long effort to retain socially conservative voters won over to the Tories during the Brexit campaign.
Despite Johnson’s resignation and Liz Truss now installed in Number 10, the anti-immigration policies continue. During her leadership bid, Truss said she would “pursue more third-country processing partnership schemes” and vowed to consider more “turnaround tactics” for migrant people crossing the Channel.
In the midst of an economic and political crisis stoked by the Government itself, ‘Operation Red Meat’ carries on.