Politics

Priti Patel backlash as child and baby migrants held in ‘outrageous’ conditions in Kent

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The Home Secretary came in for heavy criticism after Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said lawmakers had found 56 migrants packed like sardines into a small waiting room in Dover. In a letter, Ms Cooper raised “serious concerns” about the dire standards at the Kent Intake Unit and said there is a “clear risk” of a Covid outbreak at the site.

But the Home Office hit back, saying it was dealing with “unacceptable numbers” of migrants crossing the Channel illegally.

TV pundit Matthew Stadlen called the findings “outrageous”.

He said: “Not surprising that under a government led by Boris Johnson and including Priti Patel women and babies are being kept in appalling conditions in migrant holding facilities.

“But that doesn’t make it any less outrageous.”

Another man took to Twitter to hit out at the “heartless, callous” response of the Home Office to the findings.

He said: “What it should be – We are terribly sorry and will do all we can to right this.”

And yet a third said: “It beggars belief that Priti Patel can treat people like this and defend it.

“People come here for a better life and make this journey not for fun but for need!”

In the letter, Ms Cooper said some migrants had spent up to two days inside a cramped waiting room where arrivals are not meant to be held for longer than a day.

She wrote: “I am writing to raise serious concerns about the shocking conditions the committee observed during its visit to the Kent Intake Unit yesterday.

“The holding room facility, in which detained asylum seekers wait for onward placement and screening, is wholly inappropriate.

“Yesterday there were 56 people packed into the small waiting room. The space is clearly unfit for holding this many people.

“Most people were sitting or lying on a thin mattress and those covered almost the entirety of the floor including the aisles between seats.

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“Sharing these cramped conditions were many women with babies and very young children, alongside significant numbers of teenage and young adult men.

“We heard that the maximum period of time any individual should be held in this room is 24 hours but that in recent weeks some people have been kept in this small holding room for periods up to 36 and 48 hours.”

Ms Cooper said the committee also visited the atrium facility, where people stay when they are no longer in detention and awaiting onward travel.

She described the facility as “essentially an office space” with a large central room and several adjoining offices.

She said after Kent County Council stopped accepting unaccompanied minors in June, “there have been five stays of over 200 hours (10 days) in this office space and increasing numbers of multiple-day stays.”

She continued: “The Permanent Secretary has now confirmed in correspondence to the committee that one of the individuals held in this office space for over 10 days was an unaccompanied child.

“One girl was sleeping on a sofa in an office, as the only available separate sleeping accommodation.

“For children, this kind of accommodation for days on end is completely inappropriate.”

A spokesman of the Home Office hit back at criticism, insisting it takes the welfare of migrants “extremely seriously”.

He 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.

“The government continues to take steps to tackle the unacceptable problem of illegal migration through the Nationality and Borders Bill which will protect lives and break this cycle of illegal crossings, and we are continuing to return those with no legal right to remain in the UK.”

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