Suella Braverman plans for refugee vulnerable children to undergo x-rays

Home Office system capacity 'insufficient' to handle asylum claims, Tory MP warns

Home Secretary Suella Braverman risks inflaming the migration ranks with plans for vulnerable child refugees to have x-rays to verify their age.

The move came after Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, told the cabinet he wanted Britain to be a "compassionate and friendly country", distancing himself from the home secretary's controversial claim that Britain was being targeted for an "invasion" by asylum seekers.

When counterterrorist police took over the investigation into the bombing of a separate immigration facility in Kent, it turned out that Braverman's instigator statement was not clarified with No. 10. And Sunak's official spokesman declined to say whether the PM considered it appropriate.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said Braverman had tried to express the "large scale of the challenge" but accepted it was necessary to "choose your words very carefully" and said he himself did not use the phrase.

Refugee charity Care4Calais told The Independent that the X-ray proposal raised "serious protection concerns".

The Home Secretary faces accusations from senior Conservative MPs that he misled parliament when he denied that the dangerous overcrowding at the migrant processing center was caused by him blocking the use of hotels to accommodate people arriving in Britain by small boats.

And other Tory lawmakers said that Braverman's focus on tough measures to prevent Channel crossings would not work, and the Department of Home Affairs should focus its efforts on clearing the huge pile of legitimate asylum claims.

David Simmonds, who leads the parliamentary all-party group on migration, told The Independent that the most effective way to undermine the activities of people-smuggling gangs is to establish legal channels for refugees to come to the UK to have their claims assessed. .

Hundreds of people were moved from Manston on Tuesday in a bid to ease overcrowding that has seen some asylum seekers spend weeks in makeshift detention centers meant only for quick initial processing for no more than 48 hours.

In a defiant Commons appearance on Monday, Braverman denied claims he ignored legal advice on getting more hotel accommodations to allow individuals and families to move out of the centre.

With the government spending £6.8m a day to put migrants in hotels, he insisted he was right to order a review of how the system worked.

But a source close to Patel said the former interior minister regularly allowed use of the hotel when capacity in Manston was extended.

And Tory MP Sir Roger Gale – whose Thanet North constituency includes Manston – told The Independent: “I am absolutely convinced that the interior minister is imposing a moratorium on hotel accommodation. That's what caused this deadlock. It was basically human and well organized until five weeks ago, then he arrived and it hit the buffer.

“I firmly believe that the home secretary misled the DPR when she said she was not blocking the payment of additional accommodation. I was told there was documentation within the Home Office that would prove that."

Sir Roger welcomed measures to reduce overcrowding, but added: “Thousands more need to be moved. He had used it as a refugee camp, and I tried to return it to its proper destination as a processing center. There shouldn't be more than 1,200 people there and they shouldn't be there more than 48 hours."

A Home Office source insisted that the interior secretary's accusations of misleading parliament were "grossly untrue".

On Monday, Braverman promised that a new "strong" check would be introduced in the new year to settle disputes over the age of those arriving across the Strait in small boats.

The Home Office told The Independent he was referring to a proposal, put forward by his predecessor Priti Patel earlier this year, to use the scientific method to uncover adult migrants posing as children in the hope of being allowed to stay in the UK.

A panel of experts commissioned by Ms Patel to look into options including X-rays, CT scans and MRI imaging is understood to be close to completing her work.

Hannah Marwood, of Care4Calais, said her organization had supported hundreds of children who had been wrongfully taken by the government through what is known as age disputes and the cases had raised serious protection issues. "Children we work with have been placed in accommodation with adults they don't know, which is a scary situation for minors to leave behind," he said.

“The age gap has a real impact on the mental health of these young people. They don't understand why the government is challenging their age, it makes them very anxious."

He added: “The government's plan for the Department of Home Affairs to take over the age dispute process and use methods such as X-rays has been criticized by experts, including evidence that it would produce inaccurate results causing more harm to young refugees. It is time for the government to ditch the rhetoric and adopt a better and more compassionate approach to age disputes.”

A Home Office spokesperson stressed that there are no plans to force individuals to receive X-rays or other procedures.

But a paper outlining the proposal explains that rejection "should be counted as damaging the person's credibility" by those assessing whether they lied about their age.

Mr Simmonds said Ms Braverman's priority should be reducing the huge backlog of asylum claims, with nearly 110,000 awaiting a decision in March this year - up 300 per cent from 2018.

"Due to the lack of capacity in the Home Office to resolve these cases, we are seeing increasing use of hotels, with thousands of asylum seekers in Kent and around Heathrow," he told The Independent. “Four local authorities have received orders to prevent the Home Office from using hotels in their area.

“The secretary of home and his ministers need to get this done, and quickly. This is England in the 21st century, we should not see children with their families living in tents and sleeping on the ground in Manston. It is unacceptable on humanitarian grounds.

“The system capacity is not enough for the number of people – but the number is not very high. It's less than half of the previous peak and France have doubled and Germany doubled the numbers we did."

Mr Simmonds said his discussions with potential migrants in Calais made it clear that the "hostile environment" offered by Britain and the threat of displacement for processing in Rwanda was "no barrier at all".

Most wanted to reach the UK because of ties to family or friends there, he said. And others believe that Brexit gives them a chance for a "fresh start" in Britain, which can no longer simply deport migrants to the first safe EU country they enter.

The interior minister has highlighted Albanian men in recent days who have arrived in Britain in steadily increasing numbers over the past few months.

But Simmonds said the focus should be on rapid processing of nationalities such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, whose asylum claims are approved in the vast majority of cases.

And he says that the only way to reduce the dangerous crossing of the Straits in small boats is to allow asylum seekers to file their claims overseas and come to the UK for processing.

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