UK warns of ‘radical measures’ to deal with illegal migration

Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick says Britain’s system cannot cope with tens of thousands of migrants

People inside the immigration processing centre at Manston in south-east England. Reuters
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British government ministers have said “more radical measures” are planned to address a growing crisis in the UK’s migration system.

Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick said Britain could not cope with thousands of economic migrants arriving each week after processing centres were overwhelmed.

“I am afraid we now have to look at some more radical options to ensure our laws are appropriate, so that economic migrants are returned swiftly and that we deter people from coming to the UK,” Mr Jenrick told BBC Radio 4.

“The United Kingdom cannot continue to be a magnet for economic migrants. We simply do not have the infrastructure in this country to manage that."

Home Secretary Suella Braverman caused controversy on Monday when she told MPs that Britain was facing an “invasion”, language that was reminiscent of that used by the far right.

Ms Braverman has been criticised for not allowing hotels to be used, despite the overcrowding at Manston processing centre in Kent, which is designed to house about 1,600 people but now accommodates more than 4,000.

Sources said she was given legal advice that safe and adequate accommodation should be provided but this was ignored.

On Tuesday, it was claimed that Ms Braverman was presented with alternatives to Manston but would not approve sites in Conservative seats.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sought to distance himself on Tuesday from her claim that the country was facing an “invasion”.

Mr Sunak told his Cabinet that the UK would always be a “compassionate, welcoming country”.

His official spokesman suggested that Ms Braverman was seeking to “express the sheer scale of the challenge” at hand.

Meanwhile, addressing her use of the word “invasion", Mr Jenrick 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. I understand and appreciate our obligation to refugees.

“The scale of the challenge we're facing is very, very significant.”

He said people had been staying at Manston longer than 24 hours and many were forced to sleep on mats on the floor.

“We have also put in place better conditions there," Mr Jenrick said. "So, for example, there is now a very good medical centre at the site providing care for people, particularly for the families that are there.

“The root cause of the problem is the sheer number of people choosing to make that dangerous journey, putting immense pressure on our system.

"We don’t design the system for 50,000 people-plus to cross the Channel illegally, every year.

“And we as a country are struggling to know how to support them because our asylum system was not designed to receive thousands of people every day.”

He said new hotels were being procured “very rapidly” to address the problem.

Migrants at the immigration processing centre in Manston — in pictures

And he hoped the number of people at Manston would be reduced every day this week.

“We are procuring more hotels at pace, so the population of the site reduces," Mr Jenrick said. "I am hopeful that it will reduce every day of this week.

“That is dependent on the number of migrants that will cross the Channel.

“Because if you have 1,000 migrants illegally crossing the Channel every day, we have to take them somewhere in the moment and that is to Manston, which makes it very challenging.”

On Tuesday, some migrants were moved out of the overcrowded immigration centre.

The union representing Border Force staff working at the Manston site in Kent said the Home Office had hoped to take 400 people out of the site on Tuesday.

Lucy Moreton, of the Union for Borders, Immigration and Customs, also said the government department had not responded to its requests for increased support for staff working at the centre near Ramsgate.

Two coaches with heavily tinted windows were seen leaving the centre at about 4.15pm on Tuesday. It appeared the buses were full of people.

Another coach entered the site at about 4.25pm.

A Home Office spokesman said the department would not provide a “running commentary” on the number of people at the site.

It is unclear whether those moved from Manston will be taken to hotels or alternative accommodation.

An HM Inspectorate of Prisons inspection this summer found some migrants were not allowed access to mobile phones to let their families know they were safe, and “in some parts of the site they were, inexplicably, not even allowed to close toilet doors fully”.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said the government “had to get a grip”.

“I returned in September to have another look and already we were beginning to see some of those risks we had flagged in the summer manifest themselves,” Mr Taylor told Sky News.

“So people were starting to spend longer on site. People were unable to make contact with family. People were staying in accommodation that wasn’t good enough.

"What we are now hearing is that things are becoming much worse — that people are spending much longer periods of time at the centre.”

Sir Roger Gale, a Conservative MP for North Thanet, with Manston in his constituency, has said that he does not trust Ms Braverman.

“Her language yesterday, I'm afraid, suggested that she is only really interested in playing to the right wing," Mr Gale told Times Radio.

“The fact of the matter is that, of course, I'm also defending my constituents' interest because the facility at Manston was designed to turn people around in 24 hours, maximum 48 hours, and move them on.

"It's a processing centre, not a refugee camp.

“I was given a clear undertaking by Priti Patel as home secretary and by the minister of state that that is what would happen and that there would be no expansion of the facility.

“Over the last few days, we have seen an almost doubling of the size of the number of people in Manston and a massive building of further accommodation, and that is not acceptable.

“It's in breach of the undertakings that I was given and I'm not prepared to accept it. I don't accept or trust this home secretary's work.”

Updated: November 01, 2022, 7:19 PM