Britain’s government will set up basic accommodation at military bases for migrants who cross the English Channel in small boats, and is also looking at possibly housing them in vessels, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made tackling the arrival of small boats one of his main priorities, hoping his move to get tough on illegal migration will win over voters before an election expected next year.
Addressing a backlash by some over the rising number of migrants being housed in hotels, Jenrick said the government was moving ahead with plans to “provide basic accommodation at scale” at military sites in southeast and east England.
“These will be scaled up over the coming months and will collectively provide accommodation to several thousands asylum seekers through repurposed barrack blocks and portacabins (portable cabins),” he told parliament.
The move to put migrants in military barracks has been criticised by rights groups for not providing adequate housing and even Britain’s foreign minister, James Cleverly, has raised concerns about using a base in his constituency.
Jenrick also said ministers were exploring the possibility of using “vessels” as accommodation, citing Scotland’s use of a chartered cruise ship docked to host Ukrainian families in Glasgow.
That drew criticism from the Scottish National Party which said boats were used there only a temporary measure.
Sunak’s Illegal Migration Bill to try to stop people traffickers from bringing migrants to Britain’s shores has been criticised by rights campaigners, with the Council of Europe saying it was at odds with London’s international obligations.
The Council of Europe’s experts on human trafficking also expressed “deep concern” over the plan at a meeting this week.