In a letter to Interior Minister Priti Patel, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chair of parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, questioned overcrowding and length of stays at a “completely inappropriate” accommodation where asylum seekers are detained.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into port aboard a Border Force vessel, at Dover, England, Monday July 26, 2021
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into port aboard a Border Force vessel, at Dover, England, Monday July 26, 2021 (AP)

The UK government has been accused of holding asylum seekers and other migrants, including women with babies and children, in "shocking conditions" after they crossed the Channel in small boats.

Opposition Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, who chairs parliament's home affairs scrutiny committee, raised her "serious concerns" on Friday about the situation following a visit to the port town of Dover where most are initially detained.

The criticism comes as the government grapples with record numbers of asylum seekers and other migrants crossing the Channel to reach Britain, and pledges a crackdown.

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Immigration and control of Britain's borders was a major issue in Brexit, before the country left the European Union last year.

Last week saw an unprecedented 430 people intercepted in a single day in the world's busiest shipping channel or picked up on the shores of southeast England after crossing from France.

In a letter to Interior Minister Priti Patel, Cooper said the committee was concerned about overcrowding and the length of stays at temporary accommodation there as well the "clear risk" of a Covid-19 outbreak.

"I am writing to raise serious concerns about the shocking conditions the committee observed during its visit to the Kent Intake Unit yesterday," Cooper stated.

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

During their visit, committee members found dozens of new arrivals held in the "unfit" small room for periods up to 48 hours, when the maximum time any individual should be held there is one day.

"Sharing these cramped conditions were many women with babies and very young children," Cooper said.

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Meanwhile, the lawmakers also visited an atrium facility – described as "essentially an office space" – where people stay when they are no longer in detention and awaiting onward travel.

They heard that in recent weeks some asylum seekers, including at least one unaccompanied child, have stayed there for as long as 10 days.

"For children, this kind of accommodation for days on end is completely inappropriate," Cooper stated.

Patel agreed this month to give France $75 million in additional funding for border enforcement action.

Meanwhile, the government has unveiled new legislation that would overhaul asylum rules and impose stricter jail terms for both migrants and people smugglers.

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Source: AFP