A Home Office minister has been branded “callous” after saying it is “a bit of a cheek” for migrants to complain about conditions at the overcrowded processing centre at Manston in Kent.
Chris Philp was speaking as a hurried operation continued to reduce numbers held at the centre, where 4,000 people were crammed for as long as a month in a facility intended to house 1,600 for no more than 48 hours during initial assessments.
Manston was described as a “pressure cooker”, with individuals and families sleeping in tents amid reports of disease outbreaks and simmering tension.
A nine-year-old girl said in a letter thrown over the perimeter fence that the centre felt “like a prison”. And campaigners are threatening legal action against home secretary Suella Braverman over conditions in which people are being held.
But Mr Philp told Times Radio: “If people choose to enter a country illegally and unnecessarily, it is a bit of a cheek to then start complaining about the conditions.
“They don’t even have to come here, they were in France already and previously often passed through Belgium, Germany, and many other countries on the way.
“So, we’re doing our best, but the numbers are just overwhelming.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “Chris Philp’s comments betray a shocking and callous complacency over the disaster unfolding at Manston
“It is unbelievable that as we hear reports of sexual assualts, disease, and chronic overcrowding, his response is to accuse those who complain of ‘cheek’.
“Rather than dismissing the problem he should start to show some leadership. People have had enough of the endless evasion, chaos and incompetence we have seen from the government on this issue.”
Mr Philp reveaed that the processing centre is being expanded to take in more than its current capacity of 1,600 asylum-seekers arriving across the Channel.
Around 1,000 people have been moved out of Manston in the past two days, with the leader of Westminster Council describing the process as “chaos” after a group of migrants were left to sleep rough on the streets of London after being bussed to the capital late at night.
Meanwhile, Norwich Council said it was given no warning that people from Manston were being brought to the city by the Home Office.
Mr Philp told BBC Breakfast: “A huge amount of work has been done not just to reduce the numbers – 1,000 people have come out – but also to create more capacity, to increase that 1,600 number.
“Work is being done to create additional accommodation so the overcrowding doesn’t happen. It’s about making sure that there aren’t overcrowding problems.”
Westminster City Council leader Adam Hug described the arrival of asylum-seekers from Manston in the capital in the early hours of Thursday as “chaos”.
Mr Hug said a large number of people came into Westminster on Wednesday from Manston with wristbands and Home Office paperwork, but “were not being dealt with properly”.
“Some of them got put on a coach to Norwich 12 hours later, so they arrived during the middle of the day and then were taken out at 1am overnight – very early on Thursday morning then another group of 11 presented at our homelessness services yesterday, working with local charities to get them off the streets,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“So, 11 people have turned up, seven of whom are keen to be housed by the Home Office, so clearly there has been a breakdown in communication here.
“We believe those people slept rough overnight and ultimately the chaos in Manston and the pressures to get that situation sorted is having a ripple effect with people being left to sleep rough on our streets in London.”
Mr Hug said that language barriers may have caused some of the problems, after the Home Office claimed the migrants told officials they had accommodation.
But he added: “Ultimately, you have got a group of people who were dumped on the street in Westminster on Wednesday and had to sleep rough overnight and then were being picked up by our homeless services, and we have housed several of them last night as a council waiting for the Home Office to provide them with permanent accommodation.”
He added: “It’s that chaos that means that our local services and charities are having to pick up the slack.”
Mr Philp said the groups of migrants stranded in London had told immigration officials they had addresses to go to.
The policing minister told Sky News: “There are two groups of people and what I’ve been told by the people on the immigration side of the Home Office is that both groups of people told immigration officials at Manston they had addresses to go to, so friends and family.
“Clearly that understanding was not accurate. Quite how that misunderstanding arose – maybe it was lost in translation – I don’t know. But clearly they have now all been looked after.”
Stephen Evans, chief executive of Norwich Council, said the Home Office did not give its local officials any warning that migrants from Manston were being bussed into the city on Thursday.
Speaking to Today, Mr Evans said he first read about the group coming to Norwich in a news article.
“We hadn’t been told,” he said. “So we don’t know who they are and we don’t know where they’ve gone to in the city.
“I think that’s part of the problem here. As a sector, councils are asking for early engagement from the Home Office and for us to be consulted.”
He added that “of course” councils need to know where migrants are in terms of safety and safeguarding, and often the Home Office usually give local leaders just a few days’ notice when it comes to opening a hotel for migrants in their area.
“If the government engaged councils earlier in the process, we could be on the front foot and it would be a better system for sure,” he said.