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Asylum seekers including babies and children kept in 'shocking' conditions in Dover, MPs say

MPs have raised concerns after they witnessed dozens of asylum seekers - including babies and children - being kept in a "cramped" room in Kent.

Members of the home affairs select committee have branded the scenes they saw in Dover this week "wholly inappropriate".

Asylum seekers are brought into Dover Marina in a Border Force Search and Rescue boat. Picture Sam Lennon
Asylum seekers are brought into Dover Marina in a Border Force Search and Rescue boat. Picture Sam Lennon

Fifty-six asylum seekers are said to have been "packed into the small waiting room".

In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee, wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel about the "shocking conditions" she and other committee members witnessed during their visit on Tuesday.

She branded the holding facility "clearly unfit for holding this many people".

She 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."

MP Yvette Cooper. Picture: Parliament TV
MP Yvette Cooper. Picture: Parliament TV

She said that while the maximum period of detention is said to be 24 hours, some asylum seekers had allegedly been held for up to twice that time.

"In addition to overcrowding and the length of stays, the Committee was very concerned about the clear risk of a Covid-19 outbreak," she added.

Among the 56 asylum seekers held there were "vulnerable children, families and young people".

The committee also visited an "atrium" facility, where people wait when they are no longer in detention and are awaiting to travel onward.

Mrs Cooper wrote: "The atrium is essentially an office space with a large central room and several adjoining offices.

"We heard that since Kent County Council stopped accepting unaccompanied child migrants on June 14, there have been five stays of over 200 hours (10 days) in this office space and increasing numbers of multiple-day stays.

A Border Force cutter. Stock picture: Susan Pilcher
A Border Force cutter. Stock picture: Susan Pilcher

"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."

Mrs Cooper has requested investigations into the accommodation, and has asked the Home Secretary to respond to her letter by Tuesday.

Responding to all of the committee's concerns, the Home Office told the BBC that while it takes migrant welfare "extremely seriously", the record numbers crossing the Channel are putting pressure on its facilities.

A spokesman 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 asylum seekers 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."

It comes after conditions at Napier Barracks in Folkestone - where about 400 male asylum seekers were housed - sparked concerns earlier this year.

Read more: All the latest news from Dover

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