Downing Street has backed Lee Anderson’s message to asylum seekers after the deputy chairman of the Conservative party told them to “fuck off back to France” if they don’t like barges.
A refugee charity said Anderson’s “dehumanising and inflammatory” language was putting people seeking sanctuary in the UK at “real risk”. However, No 10 said the justice secretary Alex Chalk was speaking for the government when he said the comments were “not bigotry at all”.
Chalk called the comments “salty” but said Anderson’s “indignation is well placed” after only 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge on Monday with 20 refusing to move.
“If they don’t like barges then they should fuck off back to France,” Anderson told the right-wing Express tabloid newspaper. “These people come across the Channel in small boats … if they don’t like the conditions they are housed in here then they should go back to France, or better, not come at all in the first place.”
Care4Calais, a charity supporting asylum seekers, said it is considering legal action against the Home Office for failing to carry out adequate checks on the suitability of barges to house those seeking asylum. People it is caring for include those with “severe fear of water” from witnessing drownings at sea as well as torture victims and a man suffering sight loss. Care4Calais It wants to block the scheme and said some of the people
Refugee charity Freedom from Torture warned the “dehumanising and inflammatory” language used by the Tory party’s deputy chairman is putting people seeking sanctuary in the UK at “real risk”.
“Time and time again, we’re seeing government ministers amping up the cruelty of their anti-refugee rhetoric to distract from their own catastrophic mismanagement of both the asylum system and of this country,” said Natasha Tsangarides, associate director of advocacy of the charity.
“The dehumanising and inflammatory language used by certain politicians is putting people seeking sanctuary in this country at real risk, including the survivors that Freedom from Torture treat every day.”
Labour MP Diane Abbott called Anderson’s instruction to asylum seekers a “new low even for the Tories” on social media. Anderson hit back, telling Abbott she was “wrong again” and added: “I told illegal migrants to go back to France not genuine asylum seekers.
“Btw [by the way] not seen you in Parliament for a few months. Are you on leave or have you said something daft again?
In the replies, Anderson was asked what legal routes exist for asylum seekers to gain entry to the UK to make their claim, while social fundraiser Simon Harris added: “It’s a bit rich for Lee Anderson to kick off about people coming to the UK in boats, seeing that his surname indicates there’s a high chance that his ancestors came to the UK in boats.”
More than 50,000 asylum seekers were being housed in temporary hotel accommodation in June, according to Home Office figures released on Monday. That is 10,000 more than in December 2022.
In May the BBC reported that 128,812 asylum seekers had been waiting at least six months for a decision to be made on their case while the total backlog had risen to 172,758 in March.
The government claims it is spending £6 million per day to house asylum seekers and that using barges will be more cost effective.
Glasgow city council has refused the UK government’s request to dock a barge in the city. In a statement, council leader Susan Aitken posted: “he UK government wants [Glasgow City Council] to give consent to an asylum barge being sited in the city. We will not give it.
“Glasgow’s communities are proud to be beacons of support and integration for asylum seekers and refugees. This is the polar opposite of that.”
A spokesperson for Glasgow city council said: “The council was made aware that agents working on behalf of the Home Office were exploring a potential site for a barge within Glasgow.
“The council has made it clear to the Home Office that it does not support such a move.”