UK Government plans to use GPS tags to keep tabs on migrants is described as ‘immoral’ and ‘unworkable’

The UK Government is currently considering fitting GPS tags to asylum seekers deemed to have arrived on British shores through non-legal routes and who under the recently passed Illegal Migration Act will be automatically classified as ‘illegal migrants’. As such they can now be detained and removed to another country, such as Rwanda and can be subject to immigration bail while they wait for deportation which will require them to wear a GPS tag.

Government failures to reduce asylum claim backlog at the heart of detention crisis

The move comes as the government faces an unprecedented number of asylum claimants, due to its failure to process an ever-increasing backlog of claims. The government is concerned that the desperate shortage of detention spaces available within the current immigration estate will mean that migrants will need to be housed in the wider community where they can more easily abscond. The Home Office has indicated that current detention levels of migrants are almost at capacity with current numbers having reached just short of 2000 with available spaces limited to 2500. The new Illegal Migration Law is likely to see the number of criminalised asylum seekers experiencing a dramatic surge.

The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, when asked about the plans replied:

‘We’ve just enacted a landmark piece of legislation in the form of our Illegal Migration Act that empowers us to detain those who arrive here illegally and thereafter swiftly remove them to a safe country like Rwanda. That will require a power to detain and ultimately control those people. We need to exercise a level of control if we are to remove them from the United Kingdom. We are considering a range of options’

The Government is under pressure to reduce costs of housing migrants as numbers continue to escalate

The government is facing increasing pressure to reduce costs and specifically over its failure to process asylum claims as the backlog now reaches an unprecedented 175,000 claimants with an annual cost of £4 billion. The Home Office has become increasingly desperate to find alternatives to expensive hotel accommodation in order to reduce the sizeable bill to the taxpayer currently standing at in excess of £6 million a day and has resorted to using disused army bases and floating accommodation barges. These controversial options have ensured that the government has been on a collision course with human rights organisations, which have launched repeated legal challenges in the courts.

New ‘Illegal Migration Act, contains ‘a duty to detain and remove migrants’

However, the government’s new legal duty ‘to detain and remove migrants who enter the UK illegally’ has prompted the use of GPS tagging, hitherto reserved as an alternative to the detention of convicted criminals. The idea, which was first piloted a year ago to determine if monitoring migrants with GPS devices helps to ‘maintain regular contact and to more effectively progress their [asylum] claims’, drew criticism from refugee specialists, who described the project as treating desperate people seeking shelter as criminals. At the time of the pilot the GPS tag was being promoted as a mechanism to collect information on how many migrants abscond from the system.

Arrivals by boat across the English Channel from France now classified as ‘Illegal Migrants’

Refugee Groups and Human Rights Organisations condemn the use of GPS Tags

In October last year (2022), a coalition of refugee and human rights groups – ‘Bail for Immigration Detainees’, ‘Medical Justice’ and the ‘Public Law Project’, published a compelling report entitled: ‘Every Move You Make: The Human Cost of GPS Tagging in the Immigration System’. The study was based on the reviews by clinicians, whose purpose was to appraise the impact in the cases of 19 migrants fitted with the GPS ‘bail for immigration’ monitoring tags. The report challenged the premise provided by the Home Office for the use of the tags on the grounds that it ‘encourage[s] compliance with immigration rules and protect[s] the public’.


Report challenges the Home Office premise for using the GPS Tags to reduce Absconding

Instead the report found the rate of ‘absconding’ was exceptionally low. It determined that throughout 2021, less than three per cent of people released from detention absconded and during the first six months of 2022 the number was even lower. Critically, the report concluded that GPS tagging resulted in serious damage to the wearer’s mental and physical health and rendered them feeling suicidal. It described this form of surveillance as ‘invasive’, and went further in describing the procedures required to ensure that individuals were meeting necessary conditions, as ‘psychological torture. The report strongly advised that GPS tagging be stopped or at the very least that it should be subject to a strict time limit and that wearing the tag should not be mandatory in all cases.


Major Campaign to mark Ten years of hostile treatment of migrants

In June 2022, three charities – ‘Privacy International’, Bail for Immigration Detainees’ and ‘Migrants Organise’, coordinated a major campaign to mark what they called ‘Ten years of the Home Office’s hostile environment’. The centre piece of the campaign saw the projection of a giant message on the Home Office’s Lunar House building in South London, which read ‘Watching Migrants 24/7’. The campaign charities dismissed the prevailing data used by the Home Office on absconding, asserting that the measures are unreasonable and deliberately designed to make daily life unbearable. A statement by the group read:

Forty-three per cent of violations were due to tracker shutdowns resulting from loss of the tag’s battery power due to insufficient charging – potentially representing the ‘burden’ of wearers having to charge the battery daily’

The resurfacing of the proposal first put forward by former Home Secretary, Priti Patel in 2019, has been condemned by refugee specialists, human rights activists and opposition party politicians, who regard the plans as reaching a new level of inhumane treatment of migrants.

The Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon responded to the news of the proposed relaunch by saying:

‘It’s treating people as objects rather than vulnerable men, women and children in search of safety, who should be treated with compassion and humanity’

Alistair Carmichael MP, the Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesperson commented on the GPS tagging proposal and said:

‘This is another addition to the Conservatives’ immoral, ineffective and unworkable immigration plans. Ministers seem happier to entertain unworkable and frankly wrong gimmicks rather than getting to grips with the real issues we face. Suella Braverman and her Home Office have failed the British people catastrophically and this latest intervention proves it’


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