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CHARITIES are calling for urgent action after MPs discovered 56 refugees, including women and babies, being held in “shocking conditions” at a facility in Dover.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper blasted the Home Office today over the “completely inappropriate” accommodation following a visit to the site by the home affairs committee, which she chairs.
MPs said that refugees were being kept in overcrowded conditions at the Kent Intake Unit at Dover’s port for longer than the 24-hour period permitted — some for up to 48 hours.
In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Ms Cooper wrote: “Most people were sitting or lying on a thin mattress and those covered almost the entirety of the floor, including the aisles between seats.
“Sharing these cramped conditions were many women with babies and very young children, alongside significant numbers of teenage and young adult men.”
The Labour MP also raised serious concerns about a potential Covid-19 outbreak at the unit, where refugees crossing the English Channel are detained when they first arrive in Britain.
The committee also learnt that since Kent County Council stopped accepting unaccompanied minors in June, five children had been held in office accommodation for more than 10 days.
The Home Office admitted last week that dozens of people, including children, were being kept at the unit without proper washing facilities, but it denied that they were sleeping on the floor or had been there for as long as 10 days.
However the committee’s visit strongly suggests otherwise, with conditions seeming to have deteriorated ever since.
Today, the British Red Cross called for “urgent steps” to be taken to resolve the situation at the Kent Intake Unit and put in place “long-term solutions so that we do not see this situation repeated.”
Chief executive Mike Adamson said: “The welfare of these children should be the absolute priority,” adding it was “vitally important” for lone minors to get immediate support in Britain after undertaking hugely dangerous and traumatic journeys.
On Thursday, over 70 children’s charities wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warning that the accommodation was “completely inappropriate” and potentially unlawful.
Some of the unaccompanied minors are also said to have been moved to hotels with little adult supervision, a decision allegedly authorised by Mr Williamson, the letter says.
“This once again exposes a care system which is being starved of funding and ministers tolerating the intolerable when it comes to children who rely on the state to nurture and protect them,” said Article 39 director Carolyne Willow, one of the letter’s signatories.
Migrant rights groups have suggested that the current situation in the Kent Intake Unit could have been avoided if ministers had offered funding to councils to take in unaccompanied minors. It comes after inspectors criticised conditions at the unit last summer.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) campaigns director Minnie Rahman blamed the government’s mismanagement of the asylum system.
“A decade of underfunding for local authorities and chaos within the Home Office is bringing the asylum system to its knees,” she said.
“The government has been warned numerous times that the Borders Bill will exacerbate delays for asylum-seekers and lead to more abhorrent housing of this kind. A government with a conscience would scrap the Bill and treat people with humanity.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Unacceptable numbers of people are making life-threatening journeys crossing the Channel at the hands of criminal trafficking gangs.
“We take the welfare of migrants extremely seriously and, despite these pressures, we have improved our facilities, arranged additional staffing and are working to process people as quickly and safely as possible.”
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