MPs expressed serious concerns over ‘shocking conditions’ they found in Kent detention centers for asylum seekers, including an unaccompanied child housed in an office for 10 days and a girl forced to sleep on a couch for days.
Yvette Cooper, chairman of the select home affairs committee, wrote to the Home Secretary following a committee visit on Tuesday when lawmakers saw asylum seekers detained in cramped, dangerous and “totally inappropriate premises “.
Cooper described how they found 56 people crammed into a small, unventilated waiting room before being assigned a subsequent placement. There was no social distancing or wearing of masks, and it was difficult to see how safe it was for Covid, she said.
“Most people were sitting or lying on a thin mattress and these covered almost the entire floor, including the aisles between the seats. Sharing these cramped conditions, many women with babies and very young children alongside a significant number of adolescent men and young adults, ”she said in her letter to Priti Patel.
MEPs also toured the Atrium facility – “essentially an office space with a large central room and several adjoining offices” – where asylum seekers were held pending their travel, often for several days at a time and in some cases. cases up to 10 days. .
Cooper said the Home Office confirmed to the committee that one of the people held in the Atrium facility for more than 10 days was an unaccompanied child. They also said: “A girl was sleeping on a sofa in an office, the only separate accommodation available. For children, this kind of day accommodation is totally inappropriate.
She added: “It is extremely disturbing that a situation could have arisen and continued, where vulnerable children, families and young people are being held in this grossly inappropriate office space for days or even weeks. “
The letter from the Home Affairs Committee comes as councils and children’s charities are increasingly concerned about the legality of the housing of child asylum seekers by the Home Office in hotels. Under the Children’s Act, local authorities are legally responsible for the care of children.
Brighton and Hove council wrote to Patel asking for guarantees on the safety and care of dozens of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who were accommodated in a local hotel on just 24 hours’ notice and without consultation. The council said it understood that one of the new arrivals had tested positive for Covid and that the Home Office was arranging PCR testing for all at the hotel.
Council chief Phélim Mac Cafferty said he had asked for reassurance about the children’s current and ongoing care and support, but had yet to receive a response. “As we continue to press for information, we are also seeking our own legal advice to clarify the Home Office’s responsibilities towards these young people and what exactly that covers. “