Suella Braverman has been accused of “shocking” and “cruel” plans over a proposal to house asylum seekers in tents.
The Home Secretary is working on contingency plans for the use of tents as the number of people arriving via the English Channel in small boats is expected to increase.
It is understood that they will be used when needed to avoid the cost of last minute hotel bookings.
But Labor accused ministers of “floating” between “gimmicks”, proving the government’s plans to “stop the boats” were failing.
Former Justice Secretary Lord Falconer warned in the Independent that “the establishment of tented refugee camps in disused military bases across the country…is against the law.”
Refugee organizations accused the Minister of the Interior of trying to “demonize asylum seekers”.
And Labour’s Lord Dubs, who came to the UK as a child refugee, told the Independent that the move risked creating another camp like the one in Calais, dubbed ‘the jungle’.
“The procurement of tents is a clear sign of government policy failure. Will it end like Calais? Absolutely. Putting people in tents – even if the tents are better than anything else (in Calais)… – is still pretty shocking.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas described it as “another toxic and performative measure” that “humiliates asylum seekers rather than treats them like human beings”.
Despite the PM’s promise to “stop the boats”, more than 14,000 people have set out so far this year.
The tent plan comes after a Home Office move to accommodate people on barges moored offshore stalled because the ships struggled to find a place to dock.
A spokesman for the department said it was looking at “a range of accommodation options” to replace the use of hotels after backlash over the costs.
Human rights groups have criticized the “cruel” plans, saying people should be housed safely.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “It is amazing that the Home Secretary is planning to use a state source versus a concentration camp to house asylum seekers – in the same week courts ruled she broke the law with her three times violated.” inhumane treatment of refugees.
“This is yet another way the government has devised to demonize asylum seekers, based on its deeply racist approach to refugee protection.
“It really shouldn’t be asked too much that the claims of people who have fled violence, torture and persecution are assessed quickly and fairly and that they are housed in safe houses in our communities.”
He said the “winners” of the “cruel plan” were contractors making millions from taxpayers’ money.
The Times, which first reported on the purchase of the tents, which it said could accommodate up to 2,000 people, quoted government sources as saying a similar proposal to house migrants in tents was rejected last year because it was warned that it would would entail legal action for inhumane treatment by asylum seekers. The newspaper also said that some government officials compared the idea to concentration camps.
Officials say the tents are not intended for routine use, but as an emergency solution in the event of an increase in Channel crossings. In previous cases, the government booked hotel rooms at the last minute, resulting in significant costs.
Labour’s shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told LBC that the backlog of cases at the Home Office had risen sharply and accused Ms Braverman of indulging in “gimmicks”.
“We’ve seen them really waving the barges and the bases and the tents now, and actually it’s all going with an increase in hotel usage, even though they should be phasing out hotel usage,” she said.
“Because they just don’t make asylum decisions. They’ve let the gap skyrocket.”
Ms Cooper said the Home Secretary’s actions appeared to show that “not even the Government thinks” their recent legal crackdown on people crossing the Channel on small boats would work.
She added: “Instead, the gap will only widen. This will only cause more problems. We need grip, not gimmicks.”
A huge backlog of applications at the Home Office means around 132,000 asylum applications were awaiting a first decision in the UK at the end of 2022, including around 161,000 people.
A Government spokesman said: “We have made it clear that the use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers being accommodated in hotels at a cost to UK taxpayers £6million a day.”
“We continue to work across Government and with local authorities to assess a range of housing options.
“The accommodation offered to asylum seekers with no choice meets our legal and contractual requirements.”