Suella Braverman tours refugee centres in bid to halt growing asylum crisis

UK Home Secretary under growing pressure after describing influx of migrants on small boats as an 'invasion'

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrives for a visit to the Manston immigration short-term holding facility in Kent. PA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Britain's embattled Home Secretary Suella Braverman is touring immigration centres in southern England as she attempts to control a growing crisis in the UK's asylum system.

Pictures showed Ms Braverman meeting staff at the Manston processing centre in Kent, which has experienced severe overcrowding in recent months. She also met Border Force teams in Dover, the port town where many migrants arrive on small boats.

Ms Braverman has come under mounting political pressure over conditions at the site near Ramsgate, where about 3,500 people have been detained for weeks at a facility intended to hold no more than 1,600 people.

She arrived during a heavy downpour, accompanied by a large entourage. Witnesses said she spent about half an hour at the facility — where migrants are first taken after arriving on the southern coast — during which time she was shown around by Border Force staff and briefly boarded a docked patrol vessel.

She then met the Dover coastguard before heading to Manston in the afternoon, where she arrived by helicopter before getting into a black BMW vehicle to pass the gates into the site.

Downing Street said that while she was there, she would “speak with staff and receive an update on the situation on the ground”.

Ms Braverman's hardline stance on immigration has been under scrutiny in recent weeks. On Monday, she described the influx of migrants on southern England's beaches as an “invasion”.

It comes as the prime minister of Albania accused Britain of becoming like a “madhouse” with a culture of “finding scapegoats” during a migration crisis, when “failed policies” are to blame.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, 3rd right, during a visit to the migrant processing centre in Dover, Kent. PA

Albanians made up more than a third of small boat arrivals this year, with rising crossings putting “unprecedented pressure” on the UK asylum system, Ms Braverman said.

Downing Street said it is “extremely grateful” for Albania’s co-operation on the migrant crisis. A spokeswoman added: “We have a strong working relationship with them, which we would want to continue to build on.”

The grim conditions at Manston were laid bare in a letter thrown by a young girl over the perimeter fence to a news photographer. The letter claimed there were pregnant women and sick detainees at the site.

The note, written in broken English and addressed to “journalists, organisations, everyone”, appeared to suggest 50 families had been held there for more than 30 days.

Asylum seekers were also reportedly left at London’s Victoria station without accommodation after being taken off the premises.

Four parliamentary committee chiefs piled further pressure on the home secretary to explain how the government will get a grip on both the situation at the Kent facility and the migrant crisis in general.

In a joint letter to Ms Braverman, the heads of the Home Affairs Committee, Justice Committee, Joint Committee on Human Rights, and Women and Equalities Committee expressed their “deep concerns” over the “dire” conditions at Manston, asking what will be done to address the current situation and avoid overcrowding in future.

Council chiefs in Kent have said the county is at a “breaking point” as a result of the migrant situation, with the potential for disorder at Manston and the risk of far-right violence.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the migrant crisis as a “serious and escalating problem” and admitted that “not enough” asylum claims are being processed, but insisted the government is handling the situation.

Later on Thursday, Downing Street defended the home secretary’s use of a military helicopter during her visit to Kent.

Ms Braverman arrived at the Manston migrant holding centre near Ramsgate on Thursday in a Chinook helicopter, having earlier visited Dover to view the Western Jet Foil immigration facility and meet the coastguard.

The distance between Dover and Manston is about 30 kilometres by road and could take about 40 minutes to drive.

Defence analysts writing for the UK Defence Journal say that a Chinook costs about £3,500 ($3,908) per hour to fly.

The helicopter’s maximum speed is 302km per hour, its manufacturer, Boeing, says.

The Home Office said the flight left the Dover coastguard’s headquarters at 1.25pm and touched down at Manston right after 2pm.

The rest of the day’s journeys were made by car and the helicopter — which was on standby for operations — would have been used for a higher priority task instead if one materialised, the department stressed.

“The home secretary was in Dover to receive an update on operations on the ground,” said a No 10 spokeswoman.

“That obviously involved operations in the Channel.

“She travelled on a military aircraft to see the area of operations at sea.”

A Home Office spokesman added: “As part of the home secretary’s efforts to tackle vile people smuggling in the Channel, the home secretary was briefed by Clandestine Channel Threat Commander Dan O’Mahoney in Dover.

“The home secretary then travelled in a military aircraft with Mr O’Mahoney to get a view of operations in the Channel first hand.”

Updated: November 04, 2022, 5:46 AM