Home Secretary faces down criticism over deepening crisis at migrant holding centre

The Home Secretary has insisted that she never ignored legal advice or blocked plans to tackle overcrowding at a migrant holding centre.

Suella Braverman (pictured) said it was “practically impossible” to find more than 1,000 beds at short notice as she defended the decision to keep thousands of people at the Manston site in Kent.

Facing down accusations she failed to book hotels, which contributed to the overcrowding at Manston, and ignored legal advice which warned migrants were being detained for unlawfully long periods, she told MPs in the Commons on Monday: “At every point I have worked hard to find alternative accommodation to relieve the pressure at Manston.

“What I have refused to do is to prematurely release thousands of people into local communities without having anywhere for them to stay.”

Pledging to visit the site “shortly” amid questions over her decision-making, she said: “And I have never ignored legal advice, as a former attorney general I know the importance of taking legal advice into account.”

She added later: “On no occasion have I blocked the procurement of hotels or alternative accommodation to ease the pressure on Manston, I’m afraid that simply isn’t true.”

But she also prompted uproar in the chamber when she described the numbers arriving in the UK after crossing the Channel as an “invasion on our southern coast”, adding: “Let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress.”

“I am utterly serious about ending the scourge of illegal migration and I am determined to do whatever it takes to break the criminal gangs and fix our hopelessly lax asylum system.

“That is why I am in government, and that is why there are some people who would prefer to be rid of me.”

Earlier in the day, Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said overcrowding at the facility in his North Thanet constituency was “wholly unacceptable” and suggested it may have been allowed to happen “deliberately” amid a series of “car crash” decisions.

There are thought to be more than 4,000 people at the site near Ramsgate, instead of the intended maximum of 1,600.

It comes as the Channel crossing crisis deepened, amid growing concern over the conditions in which migrants are being held while waiting to be processed once they arrive in the UK, and after one of the sites in Dover was firebombed.

So far this year, close to 40,000 people have made the treacherous journey from France, crossing the world’s busiest shipping lanes in dinghies and other small boats, provisional Government figures show.

Allies of former home secretary Priti Patel said she signed off on hotel accommodation for asylum seekers whenever it was required, despite it being politically “unpalatable”, with sources telling the PA news agency: “There was never any overcrowding when she was there.”

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke warned of “rising tensions” and called for an “entirely fresh approach” to tackle the “out of control” Channel crossings when she appeared on TalkTV, adding: “What’s been happening is simply not working.”

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor told the Today programme the Home Office needed to “get a grip” on the situation.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick visited Manston on Sunday after another watchdog, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal, told MPs he was left “speechless” by the problems at the site.

In a post on Twitter, Mr Jenrick said migrants continued to be processed “securely” in “challenging conditions”, adding: “I was hugely impressed by the staff I met, managing this intolerable situation.”

The same day, two or three incendiary devices were thrown at the Western Jet Foil migrant processing centre in Dover and caused a fire.

The suspect, a 66-year-old man from High Wycombe, was identified and found dead at a nearby petrol station, Kent Police said. Officers were searching a property in the Buckinghamshire market town on Monday.

Sir Roger told the Commons the man had “very severe mental health difficulties”.

Two people sustained minor injuries and the centre remained open, but 700 people were moved to Manston for safety reasons.

Some 468 people arrived in the UK on Sunday after crossing the Channel in eight boats.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) also revised figures for several previous days of crossings, taking the provisional total for the year so far to 39,867.

Meanwhile, three people suspected of trying to smuggle migrants to the UK by boat have been arrested, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

Belgian police arrested two men, aged 34 and 44, from Basingstoke, Hampshire, on suspicion of people smuggling offences, as they arrived on the coast near Nieuwpoort, a town in the northern part of the country, at 4.30am on Sunday.

Some 12 migrants, believed to be Albanian nationals, were also detained.

A 46-year-old man was arrested by NCA officers in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, later the same day on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration.

The problems at Manston and how the Government is tackling the migrant crisis

As the Channel crossings crisis deepens and the number of arrivals continues to grow, concerns about the site in Kent have been propelled into the spotlight as the Home Office came under fire amid criticism of overcrowding and poor conditions.

What is the Manston migrant processing centre?

The Manston short-term holding facility, on a disused airfield near Ramsgate in Kent, opened in January and used to be the Ministry of Defence (MoD) fire, training and development centre.

It is now where security and identity checks are carried out on migrants after they arrive in the UK having crossed the Channel. Detainees are only meant to be held there for a maximum of 24 hours before they are moved onto longer-term accommodation, which is currently hotels.

When the plan was first announced last year, the Home Office initially said the secure site would be used to “hold migrants for up to five days”.

At the time then immigration minister Tom Pursglove said the site would provide “safe and secure accommodation” while initial checks are carried out.

What concerns have been raised about the site?

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale described the overcrowding at the facility in his North Thanet constituency as “wholly unacceptable” and suggested it may have been allowed to happen “deliberately”.

Last week the scale of the problems were laid bare by an immigration watchdog who warned the facility had already passed the point of being unsafe.

Chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal told the Commons Home Affairs Committee he was left “speechless” by the conditions he saw at the centre, prompting him to write to the home secretary with his concerns.

He said the site was already “outstripping” capacity by at least 1,000 people and described the “pretty wretched conditions”, which included families having to sleep on the floor in marquees for over a month, adding that it was a “really dangerous situation”.

The revelations prompted charity the Refugee Council to call for “urgent” action and asked to meet with ministers to discuss proposals for tackling the problems.

The Sunday Times reported Ms Braverman had been accused of failing to act on legal advice received at least three weeks ago which warned migrants were being detained for unlawfully long periods – claims which were dismissed by the Home Office as “baseless”.

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to publish the legal advice reportedly ignored by Ms Braverman.

What is the Government doing to tackle the Channel crossings crisis?

So far this year close to 40,000 people have made the treacherous journey from France, crossing the world’s busiest shipping lanes in dinghies and other small boats, provisional Government figures show.

The growing numbers are still a fraction of the volume of people going to mainland Europe. But the UK figures are also far higher than in 2021, when 28,526 made the journey.

The Government has stressed there is “no silver bullet” to tackling the migrant crisis.

Asked when new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was going to get a grip on the situation, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I think all ministers involved have been clear that this is a very difficult, longstanding problem.

“We do have a package of measures, everything from the Rwanda deal down to what we are doing stopping around 28,000 crossings with French colleagues, and changing the laws to make it easier to crack down on the criminal gangs that are exploiting people.

“We do want to proceed with the Rwanda policy, which we believe will have a significant deterrent effect. But there is a great deal of work that needs to be done across the board before we make further progress.”

Mr Sunak and Emmanuel Macron also pledged to “deepening” the partnership between the UK and France in a bid to render Channel crossings “completely unviable” during their first phone call together.

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