UK govt says asylum centre criticised for overcrowding now empty

An asylum processing centre embroiled in an overcrowding row is now empty, the UK government said Tuesday, after a week of no new migrants making the trip across the Channel from France.

A record 42,000 migrants have been intercepted and brought ashore so far this year, testing the country's ability to process and house the new arrivals.

The interior ministry, known as the Home Office, faced criticism earlier this month after reports said some 4,000 people were being held at its main Manston reception facility near Dover on England's south coast.

It is meant to hold just 1,600, leading to concerns about human rights abuses at the site.

At around the same time, firebombs were thrown at another reception facility in Dover by a man who was later found dead, leading to some relocations to Manston.

"Staff across the Home Office have worked tirelessly under challenging circumstances to source alternative accommodation as quickly as possible for those who have been processed at Manston," a government spokesperson said.

"Thanks to their efforts, there are currently no people being accommodated on-site, and improvements continue to be made to the site to ensure it remains well-resourced to process migrants safely and securely."

The spokesperson added the growing numbers were putting "an unprecedented and unsustainable strain on our asylum system".

Officials remain "focused on deterring illegal migration and disrupting the criminal gangs responsible for these dangerous crossings".

The arrivals spike has also caused a logjam in asylum claims and increased accommodation costs estimated by the UK government at £6.8 million ($7.8 million) a day, straining local services and fuelling public anger.

Official figures show that no new arrivals were recorded since November 14 by the defence ministry, which since April has been spearheading the operational response to small boat migration in the Channel.

That day, 400 migrants arrived on eight boats, according to the ministry's statistics.

The drop in arrivals coincides with a period of bad weather, which likely deterred crossing attempts.

Responding to questions about Manston, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman said the site "by design is meant to be a temporary holding facility".

"Obviously there were immediate challenges, particularly after the attack at the other centre, which caused numbers to spike," he added.

"So you would expect numbers to be relatively low on a daily basis as people are moved through quickly."

The UK last week agreed to pay France another 72.2 million euros ($74.1 million) to prevent the crossings, under a new deal seen as a sign of improving ties between the neighbours.