A cross-party group of British lawmakers say Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been holding asylum seekers and other migrants, including women with babies and children, in “shocking conditions” after they crossed the English Channel.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, raised “serious concerns” on Friday about the status quo after paying a visit to the port town of Dover, where most refugees are first held.
Cooper also wrote a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel about the “completely inappropriate” facilities after her Home Affairs Committee visited accommodation units in Dover. Women with babies being among 56 migrants were packed into a small room covered in mattresses, committee members said.
“The holding room facility, in which detained asylum seekers wait for onward placement and screening, is wholly inappropriate,” the Labour MP wrote in her letter to the Home Office.
Dozens of new arrivals were witnessed in the “unfit” small room, where people were held there for periods of up to 48 hours, while according to the rules, the maximum time any individual should be held there is one day.
In addition to concerns about overcrowding and the length of stay, Cooper also said her committee was “very concerned” about the “clear risk” of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Stuart McDonald, who is a member of the Home Affairs Committee, complained that “the Home Secretary has learned nothing from the Napier and Penally barracks scandals, and is continuing to treat vulnerable people appallingly, ignore public health advice, and put people in danger.”
“It is beyond time for Priti Patel to get a grip when it comes to accommodating vulnerable asylum seekers. We have had scandal after scandal under her watch and it cannot continue,” he added.
Meanwhile, responding to the MPs’ findings, Minnie Rahman, campaigns director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said, “It is an absolute disgrace that we are treating vulnerable people in this way on British soil.”
She added that the Nationality and Borders Bill “must be scrapped and the government must treat asylum-seekers like people, and not like a problem to be solved.”
The criticism follows a government pledge to crack down on record numbers of asylum seekers who cross the Channel in hopes of getting refugee status. Last week saw an unprecedented 430 people intercepted or picked up on the shores of southeast England after crossing from France through the Channel in a single day.