LONDON (AP) — British politicians from both opposition and governing parties on Monday demanded the Conservative government improve conditions at an overcrowded facility for migrants, described by an independent inspector as “wretched.”
Hundreds of people who crossed the English Channel in small boats have been moved to Manston, a former airfield in southeast England, after another processing center was hit with gasoline bombs on Sunday by an attacker who then killed himself. There already were 3,000 people at the facility, which is intended to hold about half that number.
Lawmakers are demanding that Home Secretary Suella Braverman come to Parliament on Monday to answer questions about conditions at Manston.
It is 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 Inspector of Borders David Neal, who recently visited, said last week that conditions were “wretched.” He told lawmakers there had 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 humane conditions.”
“Up until about five weeks ago the system was working as it was intended to, very well indeed,” he said. “It’s now broken and it’s got to be mended fast.”
Gale accused the government of deliberately worsening conditions at Manston by refusing to book hotel rooms for asylum seekers.
“There are simply far too many people and this situation should never have been allowed to develop, and I’m not sure that it hasn’t almost been developed deliberately,” he told the BBC. “I want the person responsible for creating that problem to be held to account.”
The U.K. receives fewer asylum-seekers than many European nations, including France and Germany. But there has been a sharp increase in the number of people trying to cross the channel in dinghies and other small craft. Some 40,000 have made the hazardous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes so far this year, up from 28,000 in all of 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.
Dozens have died, including 27 people in November 2021 when a packed smuggling boat capsized.
Britain and France have wrangled over how to stop the people-smuggling gangs that organize the journeys.
Britain’s government has announced a controversial plan to send people who arrive in small boats on a one-way journey to Rwanda – a plan it says will deter people from crossing the Channel and break the business model of smuggling gangs. Critics say the plan is immoral and impractical, and it is being challenged in the courts.
Braverman, who was appointed in September by ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss, is an enthusiastic supporter of the stalled Rwanda plan and has been accused by critics of demonizing migrants.
The government says problems are being caused by a surge in migrant numbers, but critics accuse the government of allowing a backlog to develop. Labour 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, rather than doing the hard yards and the hard graft of sorting out the backlog, is chasing headlines with things like the Rwanda plan, which is simply unworkable, unethical, and unaffordable,” he told Times Radio.