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Asylum seekers should be held on cruise ship in the Channel, former immigration chief says

Migrants are escorted into Dover harbour, after being rescued while attempting to cross the English Channel, in Dover, Britain, August 24, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Almost 1,000 asylum seekers crossed the Channel to the UK from France on Saturday. (Reuters)

A former immigration chief has suggested that people who cross the Channel in small boats should be held on a cruise liner at sea to prevent them from claiming asylum in the UK.

According to government estimates, almost 40,000 people have made the perilous journey from France across the world's busiest shipping lane so far this year - with almost 1,000 people arriving on Saturday alone.

Kevin Saunders, former chief immigration officer for the UK Border Force, on Monday morning told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the asylum system is "broken" and requires a change in approach.

“I would put a cruise liner in the middle of the Channel and put all asylum seekers on that, put it in international waters so they can’t claim asylum, because it’s not the UK," said Saunders.

“This has been mooted before but was kicked into the long grass, but I think it’s worth revisiting.”

Read more: UK and France promise ‘deepening’ partnership to curb Channel crossings

Saunders said any cruise liner providing such a service would need to have appropriate facilitates for passengers onboard.

It comes the day after a man firebombed the Manston immigration detention centre in Kent before killing himself at a nearby petrol station.

The government's management of the detention centre had been criticised for providing substandard living conditions including overcrowding, lack of beds, and outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria.

Home secretary Suella Braverman has been accused of making the situation worse by failing to book hotels to house asylum seekers, contributing to the overcrowding at the Manston migrant processing site.

Nick Hardwick, former head of parole for England and Wales, said the situation was "appalling".

"What’s happening in Manston is a national disgrace," said Hardwick on Sunday night.

EDITORS NOTE Children's faces have been pixelated as the PA Picture Desk has been unable to gain the necessary permission to photograph a child under 16 on issues involving their welfare. A view of people thought to be migrants at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. 700 people were moved to the Manston facility for safety reasons after incendiary devices were thrown at a Border Force migrant centre in Dover on Sunday. Picture date: Monday October 31, 2022.
The government has been accused of holding asylum seekers at the Manston immigration detention centre there longer than legally allowed. (PA)
A view of the Manston immigration short-term holding facility located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. 700 people were moved to the Manston facility for safety reasons after incendiary devices were thrown at a Border Force migrant centre in Dover on Sunday. Picture date: Monday October 31, 2022.
Manston immigration detention centre was fired bombed multiple times on Sunday. (PA)

"Hundred illegally detained on the whim of a politician. Women and children including from Iran sleeping on mats on the floors of tents for weeks as winter approaches.

"Diseases of the past rife. And now firebombs."

Senior Tory MP Roger Gale, who visited the site over the weekend, has described the scenes as "inhumane" and "wholly unacceptable" - claiming over 4,000 people were being kept at the site, which has a maximum capacity of 1,600.

He also appeared to suggest that the conditions may have been created "deliberately" by the Home Office after requests for accommodation to prevent overcrowding were rejected.

A picture and its story: Fire-bombing of a seaside English migrant centre

“That’s like driving a car down a motorway, seeing the motorway clear ahead, then there’s a car crash, and then suddenly there’s a five-mile tailback," said Gale.

“The car crash was the decision not to book more hotel space."

However, the Home Office has rejected claims that home secretary ignored advice, describing accusations as "baseless" and that she had "taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues".

Environment minister Mark Spencer told Sky News on Monday morning the UK needs to find a way to deal with migrants “compassionately” as he acknowledged there are “huge challenges” in the system.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said there is no “silver bullet” to fix the migrant crisis, adding: “Clearly there’s more to do, but we’re making progress.”

Watch: Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale says situation at Manston migrant centre 'a breach of humane conditions'