UK home secretary Suella Braverman has blamed asylum seekers for dangerous overcrowding at a migrant processing centre in Kent and denied responsibility for the crisis.
The British government was under pressure over conditions at the site at Manston in Kent, which is operating at more than double its capacity, with people staying much longer than the intended 24-hour period and sleeping on mats on the floor, reports said.
On Wednesday (23), the Commons Home Affairs Committee questioned Braverman about the legality of the centre and why it became overcrowded.
Braverman and the Home Office came under fire over the conditions at the centre. According to reports, the crisis has now been resolved, and most of the migrants have been accommodated in hotels across the nation.
After people who were detained there were transferred to hotels in recent weeks, the Manston centre is now entirely empty. At its peak, the site had 4,000 people, more than double its 1,600 capacity, in what was called a ‘breach of humanitarian circumstances’.
The crisis worsened on Sunday (20) when a mandied in hospital after falling ill at the processing centre. But the cause of death is still unknown.
According to Braverman there was a growing problem at Manston and the Home Office worked ‘quickly and intensively’ to procure extra accommodation.
“I’ll tell you who’s at fault. It’s the people who are breaking our rules, coming here illegally, exploiting vulnerable people and abusing the generosity of the British people. That’s who’s at fault,” the home secretary told the committee chair Dame Diana Johnson MP.
The minister suggested the overcrowding at the centre happened due to some ‘exceptional circumstances’. The committee was not satisfied by the answer.
Dame Diana asked: “Why was that an exceptional circumstance because we all know that the numbers projected for this year were going to exceed the 28,500 from last year coming across on small boats?
“Why did the Home Office not have plans in place to deal with the numbers?”
It was reported last month that Braverman was warned on several occasions in September and October that asylum seekers were probably being held at Manston illegally.
During the hearing, the minister that there are number judicial reviews underway against the Home Office for illegal detention at Manston.
As the office struggles to manage a backlog of cases, the Home Office is also providing retention bonuses for asylum case workers.
In addition to their pay, employees who stay on the job for a year are awarded £1,500, and those who stay for two years will get £2,500.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Tim Loughton questioned the availability of safe and legal routes to the UK from some countries.
“I’m a 16-year-old orphan from an East African country escaping a war zone and religious persecution, and I have a sibling legally in the UK at the moment. What is the safe and legal route for me to come to the UK,” he asked. But Braverman was unable to answer the question.
While responding to a question about 32 migrants dying in the Channel last year, prime minister Rishi Sunak said that every loss of life in the Channel is a ‘tragedy’. He stressed the importance of breaking the cycle of criminal gangs exploiting migrants.
Last week, Britain and France have signed an agreement in 2022/23 to tackle the problem of illegal immigrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.
Britain’s Home Office said the deal would see a 40 per cent increase in the number of UK-funded officers patrolling French beaches, with British officers embedded in French-led control rooms for the first time to improve coordination.