Four senior MPs have piled further pressure on the Home Secretary to explain how the Government will get to grips with the migrant crisis.
The parliamentary committee chairs have jointly written to Suella Braverman calling for clarity on how the Home Office will cut the number of treacherous small boat crossings and reduce “as a matter of urgency” the backlog in cases currently within the asylum system.
They also express their “deep concerns” over the “dire” conditions at the Manston asylum processing centre in Kent, asking what will be done to address the current situation and avoid overcrowding in future.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick confirmed the Government has received “initial contact for a judicial review” over Manston, but said he cannot comment on who is behind the challenge for legal reasons.
Speaking to Sky News’ The Take with Sophy Ridge, he said: “I believe we have received the initial contact for a judicial review.”
He insisted this is “not unusual” as it is a “highly litigious area of policy”, but said as the minister responsible he wants to ensure everything is conducted “appropriately and within the law”.
“I have tried to work night and day to ensure that the Manston site is not just legally compliant but is a humane and compassionate place where we welcome those migrants, treat them appropriately and then they leave quickly to alternative accommodation,” he said.
Mr Jenrick suggested conditions at the facility may not currently be legal, as he said: “I expect that Manston will be returned to a well-functioning and certainly legally compliant site very rapidly.”
He told ITV’s Peston he thinks there are around 3,500 people at the centre as of Wednesday evening, and he expects numbers to get down to an “acceptable level” within around seven days. The site has a capacity of 1,600.
“We’re procuring more hotels in all parts of the country, decanting the migrants from Manston to those as quickly as we can,” he said.
“And once we’ve done that, we’ll be able to restore Manston to the kind of acceptable humane conditions that all of us would want to see.”
The letter from the committee chiefs states that reports in recent days suggest conditions have “substantially deteriorated” at the site, and that “unacceptably long stays have increased, including for families and unaccompanied children”.
On Wednesday afternoon, a young girl threw a bottle containing a letter over the perimeter fence to a PA news agency photographer, claiming there were pregnant women and sick detainees at the facility.
The note, written in broken English and addressed to “journalists, organisations, everyone” appeared to suggest 50 families had been held there for more than 30 days.
Asylum seekers were also reportedly left at London’s Victoria station without accommodation after being taken out of the processing centre.
The group of 11 men were driven to the capital from Kent on Tuesday as part of a larger group, according to the Guardian.
In their letter to Ms Braverman, the committee chairs call for clarity on what policies the Home Office has in place to address the conditions at the centre and ensure it does not face such overcrowding again.
They also say they are keen to understand how the department will cut the number of small boat arrivals, and reduce “as a matter of urgency” the backlog in cases currently within the asylum system.
The letter is signed by the chairs of the Home Affairs Committee, Justice Committee, Joint Committee on Human Rights and Women and Equalities Committee, and requests a response by November 16.
It follows a warning from council chiefs that Kent is at “breaking point” as a result of the migrant crisis, with the potential for disorder at Manston and the risk of far-right violence.
The leaders of 14 authorities wrote to the Home Secretary calling on the Government to stop using the county as an “easy fix for what is a national, strategic issue”, claiming they were under disproportionate pressure because of their location.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the migrant crisis as a “serious and escalating problem” and admitted that “not enough” asylum claims are being processed, but insisted the Government is getting a grip on the situation.
He has backed Ms Braverman’s handling of the issue, saying she has taken “significant steps” to address the problem of overcrowding at Manston.
Mr Sunak was challenged at PMQs by Sir Keir Starmer, who said responsibility for an asylum system which Ms Braverman described as “broken” lies with the Tories, who have been in power since 2010.
Around 40,000 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, with the Home Secretary criticised for warning of an “invasion” on the south coast.
Provisional Government figures to date show 39,913 people have arrived in the UK after making the journey.
The four committee chairs say in their letter to Ms Braverman that it “remains unclear” what Home Office processes and protocols are in place to improve conditions at Manston in the short term, and to deal with the backlog in asylum decisions.
They also call on the Home Secretary to provide assurances that physical searches and force are being used “only when proportionate and necessary”, after the Chief Inspector of Prisons found detainees at some short-term holding facilities were “searched too many times and not always with sufficient sensitivity”.