Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has rejected language used by the home secretary describing the increase of asylum seekers to the UK as an “invasion”.
Suella Braverman told MPs yesterday that the public needs to know which party is serious about “stopping the invasion” of migrants on the southern coast of the UK.
Mr Jenrick, when asked if he would characterise the situation in the same way, told Sky News: “In a job like mine, you have to choose your words very carefully. And I would never demonise people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life.”
However, he said describing people crossing the Channel as an “invasion” was a way to show the scale of the challenge “and that’s what Suella Braverman was trying to express”.
He said the number of people making the small boat crossings could reach higher than fifty thousand by the end of the year.
He also claimed that Ms Braverman was speaking for people who live on the south coast “who day in, day out are seeing migrant boats landing on their beaches”.
“There was a report just yesterday from a lady who found a young migrant from Albania in her kitchen seeking support, asking for money,” he said.
“I know that that’s not acceptable in this country.”
However, Labour said that Ms Braverman’s language has put communities, the police and security services at risk – pointing to the weekend’s petrol bomb attack on the Border Force immigration centre in Dover.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell told Sky News: “For the home secretary to put our security services at a greater strain through incendiary language is deeply irresponsible.”
Ms Braverman made the comments as she gave a statement to the House of Commons about overcrowding at the Manston immigration processing centre in Kent, where outbreaks of MRSA and diphtheria have been reported.
The home secretary has denied claims that she ignored legal advice and rejected calls by officials to procure more hotel accommodation for migrants amid mounting concern about the situation, which has been described as a “breach of humane conditions”.
There are thought to be around 4,000 migrants at the processing facility, which is designed to hold a maximum of 1,600, with some said to have been there for up to a month, even though they are supposed to be moved on after 24 hours.
‘More hotels being procured at pace’
Mr Jenrick revealed the government is procuring more hotels to accommodate asylum seekers waiting for their applications to be processed.
He accepted “conditions are poor” at Manston, with people sleeping on mats and staying longer than the 24 hours intended.
“This is not a satisfactory situation. I’m not here to defend that,” he said.
However, he insisted the root cause is not the government, adding: “The problem is that thousands of people are crossing the Channel illegally every day.”
Mr Jenrick insisted Manston is fit for purpose and said the problem is there are too many people there.
“More hotels have been coming online almost every month throughout the whole of this year. So Suella Braverman and her predecessor, Priti Patel, were procuring more hotels. What I have done in my short tenure is wrap that up and procure even more.”
Home office ‘needs to get a grip’
The government is coming under further scrutiny over the situation at Manston after a new report – published on Tuesday and based on an inspection in July – revealed detainees were not allowed to close toilet doors fully and had to sleep on the floor.
Some migrants have not been allowed access to mobile phones to inform their families if they were safe, while other “exhausted detainees” have waited more than 30 hours to be processed, the report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons found.
Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, told Sky News the Home Office needs to “get a grip” on the situation.
“It is extremely concerning that children are being asked to sleep on the floor in accommodation that’s wholly unsuitable,” he said.
“Bear in mind that some of these people have had incredibly long journeys. Some of them are potentially victims of torture, victims of all sorts of abuse and also potentially victims of trafficking as well.”
He said he would be “horrified” if he saw the situation at Manston echoed at UK prisons.
“As I said before, the Home Office needs to get a grip.”