British government criticized for “painful” treatment of migrants

LONDON (HPD) — British politicians from government and opposition parties on Monday demanded the Conservative government improve conditions at a crowded migrant center described by an independent inspector as “grievous.”

Hundreds of people who crossed the English Channel in small boats have been transferred to Manston, a former airfield in south-east England, after another processing center was firebombed on Sunday by an assailant who later killed himself. There were already 3,000 people on the premises, double what it was originally supposed to accommodate.

Lawmakers demanded that Home Secretary Suella Braverman appear before Parliament on Monday to answer questions about conditions in Manston.

The site was supposed to be a temporary processing center where new arrivals would spend 24 hours before moving into long-term accommodation, but refugee support groups say some people have been stranded there for weeks.

Chief Border Inspector David Neal, who recently visited the compound, said last week that conditions were “dire”. He told lawmakers there had been cases of diphtheria and “it’s a very dangerous situation.”

Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, who represents the Manston area in Parliament, said the situation was a “breach of humane conditions”.

“Until five weeks ago the system was working as planned, very well indeed,” he said. “Now it’s broken and needs to be fixed quickly.”

Gale accused the government of deliberately worsening the situation in Manston by refusing to book hotel rooms for asylum seekers.

“There are simply too many people and this situation should never have been allowed to happen, and I’m not sure it hasn’t happened deliberately,” he told the BBC. “I want the person responsible for creating that problem to take responsibility.”

Britain receives fewer asylum seekers than many European countries such as France and Germany. But there has been a sharp rise in people trying to cross the canal in flimsy boats. Some 40,000 have made the perilous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes so far this year, compared with 28,000 people in all of 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.

Dozens of people have died, including 27 who died in November 2021, when a boat packed with smugglers capsized.

Britain and France have disagreed on how to stop the people-smuggling gangs that organize the trips.

The British government has announced a controversial plan to send people arriving by small boat on a one-way trip to Rwanda on the grounds that it will deter people from crossing the Channel and break the smugglers’ business model. Critics dismiss the plan as immoral and impractical, and have taken the strategy to court.

Braverman, appointed in September by former Prime Minister Liz Truss, is a keen supporter of Rwanda’s stalled plan and has been accused of demonizing migrants.

The government blamed the problems on a surge in immigrant arrivals, though critics accuse the government of allowing backlogs to pile up. Labor immigration spokesman Stephen Kinnock said there was “chaos and confusion and incompetence at the heart of the government’s immigration and asylum policy”.

“Instead of doing the hard work of solving the delays, the government is making headlines with things like the Rwanda plan, which is just unworkable, unethical and unaffordable,” he told Times Radio.

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