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17 July 2024

UK: Home Office ‘may fit asylum seekers with electronic tags’

By TheGuardian

The Home Office is considering fitting asylum seekers arriving in the UK via unauthorised means with electronic tags, it has been reported. Officials are mulling it as a way to prevent people who cannot be housed in limited detention sites from absconding, according to the Times.

The Illegal Migration Act places a legal duty on the government to detain and remove those arriving in the UK illegally, either to Rwanda or another “safe” third country. But with spaces in Home Office accommodation in short supply, officials have reportedly been tasked with a “deep dive” into alternatives.

While the preferred solution is to increase the number of detention places, electronic tagging has been mooted, as has cutting off financial allowances to someone who fails to report regularly to the Home Office, the Times cited a source from the department as saying.

The source said: “Tagging has always been something that the Home Office has been keen on and is the preferred option to withdrawing financial support, which would be legally difficult as migrants would be at risk of being left destitute.”

Asked whether tagging was under consideration, a source close to the home secretary, Suella Braverman, said: “We already do it.”

Home Office data this week showed that Channel crossings topped 19,000 for the year so far, despite Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”.

The asylum backlog has soared to a record high, with more than 175,000 people waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application at the end of June. The bill for the taxpayer almost doubled in a year to nearly £4bn.

Last week the UNHCR, the refugee agency that helps the UK government improve its asylum system, praised a Home Office-funded scheme in Bedfordshire, which it found cut the cost of accommodating people by more than half when compared with placing them in detention. The savings came through housing people and giving legal and welfare support.

The Home Office under Braverman, however, is intent on overseeing a huge increase in its detention capacity, which experts estimate will cost billions.

Braverman told parliament she intended to pursue “a programme of increasing immigration-detention capacity”, which reportedly includes disused RAF bases and barges.

The only barge being used so far is the Bibby Stockholm, which was intended to hold 500 asylum seekers but is now empty after legionella bacteria was discovered onboard.