LONDON — Britain’s interior minister visited immigration facilities on England’s southeastern coast Thursday as she grappled with an overcrowding crisis at a migrant facility and an outcry over her claim that the U.K. faced an “invasion” of asylum-seekers.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is under heavy pressure to address potentially unlawful conditions at Manston, a converted airfield that has held up to 4,000 people who made hazardous journey across the English Channel on small boats to reach the U.K.
The building, meant to be a temporary processing center for new arrivals, became a focal point this week after it emerged that some migrants have been detained there for weeks in cramped, inhumane conditions. Independent inspectors have reported migrant children sleeping on floors, with no access to phones or fresh air.
Critics, including the opposition Labour Party, have blamed Braverman’s hardline stance against unauthorized immigration for aggravating problems within the asylum system. They have accused her of blocking hotel bookings to ease overcrowding at the Manston center — claims that she denies.
Braverman met with the coast guard and toured Manston but avoided reporters throughout her visit. She also toured a migrant center in the port town of Dover, the scene of a gasoline bomb attack on Sunday.
Police say the firebombing, which slightly injured two staff members, was likely driven by “hate-filled grievance.” The suspect, who killed himself after the attack, reportedly supported far-right causes on social media.
Britain’s government said the situation at the Manston center was improving, with more than 1,000 people having been relocated to other accommodations in recent days. But about 2,700 remain at the center, which was intended to host about half that number.
Braverman drew widespread criticism earlier this week for describing the surge in small boat crossings on the English Channel as an “invasion on our southern coast.” She also riled Albania by blaming Albanian criminal gangs for “abusing” Britain’s asylum system and modern slavery laws.
Albanian citizens made up about a third of those arriving in small boats so far this year, a large increase compared with previous years. In total, Britain has seen some 40,000 migrants crossing the English Channel to reach its shores this year. That’s a record high, although the U.K. receives far fewer asylum-seekers compared to European countries such as Italy, Greece, France or Germany.
Albania’s prime minister on Thursday blasted Braverman’s “crazy narrative” and attempts to “cover up for totally failed policies on borders and on crime.”
“To single out a community, and to talk about gangsters and about criminals, doesn’t sound really something that is very British,” Edi Rama told reporters in Berlin. “(It) sounds more like screams from a madhouse.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said it is “extremely grateful” for Albania’s co-operation on managing migration, adding that it wanted to “continue to build on” the two countries’ working relationship.
Sunak has described the migrant crisis as a “serious and escalating problem.” He acknowledged that “not enough” asylum claims are being processed, but maintained his Conservative government was getting a grip on the situation.