UK lawmakers say conditions for Channel migrants ‘shocking’

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A man and a child thought to be migrants are disembarked from a British border force vessel in Dover, south east England, Thursday, July 22, 2021. The number of undocumented migrants reaching Britain in small boats this year has surpassed the total for all of 2020, as people smugglers take advantage of good weather to cross the English Channel from France. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers say they found “shocking conditions” at a facility for people arriving in England on small boats, with babies and small children among dozens packed into a small room in the port town of Dover.

Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee said in a letter released Friday that its members found 56 people crammed into a waiting room at the Kent Intake Unit when they visited this week.

Chairwoman Yvette Cooper, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker, said the crowded conditions created a “clear risk” of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“The space is clearly unfit for holding this many people,” Cooper said in a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Britain’s immigration minister. “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.”

Cooper said some people were being kept in the room for up to 48 hours before being sent to accommodation, despite a law saying they shouldn’t be held there for more than a day. Others were spending up to 10 days in “essentially an office space” while awaiting onward travel.

The Home Office 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,” it said in a statement to the BBC.

The British and French governments have worked for years, without much success, to stop people trying to reach England from northern France, either by stowing away in trucks or on ferries, or in small boats organized by people smugglers

Almost 8,500 people have arrived in Britain by crossing the Channel in small boats so far this year, about the same as the total for all of 2020. Several people have died trying to make the journey.

The journeys have been seized on by anti-immigration commentators such as former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who has criticized Britain’s sea-rescue service, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, for picking up migrants from boats in the Channel and bringing them ashore.

The RNLI, a charity, defended its humanitarian work and said donations rose from a daily average of 7,000 pounds ($9,800) to 200,000 pounds ($280,000) in one day after the criticism.

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