LONDON (AP) — British politicians from both the opposition and governing parties on Monday called on the Conservative government to improve conditions at an overcrowded migrant facility that an independent inspector called “deplorable.”
Hundreds of people who crossed the Channel in small boats were taken to Manston, a former airport in southeast England, after another processing center was hit with petrol bombs on Sunday by an attacker who then killed himself. There were already 3,000 people in the facility, which is intended to accommodate about half that number.
Lawmakers are demanding Home Secretary Suella Braverman come to parliament on Monday to answer questions about conditions at Manston.
It’s supposed to be a temporary processing center where new arrivals spend 24 hours before moving on to longer-term accommodation, but refugee groups say some people have been stuck there for weeks.
Chief Border Inspector David Neill, who visited recently, said last week that conditions were “deplorable”. He told lawmakers that there have been cases of diphtheria and “it’s a really dangerous situation.”
Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, who represents the Manston area in Parliament, said the situation was a “breach of human conditions”.
“Up until about five weeks ago the system was working as intended, very well indeed,” he said. “Now it’s broken and needs to be fixed quickly.”
Gale accused the government of deliberately worsening conditions in Manston by refusing to book hotel rooms for asylum seekers.
“There are just too many people and this situation should never have been allowed to develop, and I’m not sure it hasn’t developed almost deliberately,” he told the BBC. “I want whoever is responsible for creating this problem to be held accountable.”
The UK accepts fewer asylum seekers than many European countries, including France and Germany. However, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people trying to cross the canal in dinghies and other small boats. About 40,000 have made the perilous journey in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes so far this year, up from 28,000 total in 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.
Dozens have died, including 27 people in November 2021 when an overcrowded smuggling boat capsized.
Britain and France have been at loggerheads over how to stop the people-smuggling gangs that organize the trips.
The British government has announced a controversial plan to send people arriving in small boats on a one-way journey to Rwanda – a plan it says will prevent people from crossing the Channel and break the business model of smuggling gangs. Critics say the plan is unethical and unfeasible and is being challenged in court.
Braverman, who was appointed in September by former prime minister Liz Truss, is a staunch supporter of the stalled Rwanda plan and has been accused by critics of demonizing migrants.
The government says the problems are caused by rising numbers of migrants, but critics accuse the government of allowing a backlog to develop. Labour’s immigration spokesman Stephen Kinnock said there was “chaos and confusion and incompetence now at the heart of the government’s immigration and asylum policy”.
“The government, instead of doing the hard work and hard graft of fixing the backlog, is chasing headlines with things like the Rwanda plan, which is simply unworkable, unethical and unaffordable,” he told Times Radio.