Braverman referred to small-boat crossings on Monday as “the invasion of our southern coast” and said “illegal immigration is out of control.”
Her deputy, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, distanced himself from her words.
“In a job like mine you have to choose your words very carefully,” he told Sky News. “And I would never demonize people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who appointed Braverman after he took office last week, told his Cabinet on Tuesday that Britain “would always be a compassionate, welcoming country,” his spokesman said.
The number of asylum-seekers attempting to reach Britain by boat has increased steadily, and the system for considering applications has slowed to a crawl amid turmoil in the Conservative government, which is on its third prime minister and third home secretary this year.
Manston — a former airfield in southeast England — is supposed to be a temporary processing center where new arrivals spend 24 hours before moving on to longer-term accommodation, but refugee groups say some people have been stuck there for weeks. Some families are sleeping in tents, and there have been cases of diphtheria and scabies.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said that when he visited the site recently, he saw people sleeping on floors and “lots and lots of people in a room, all squished in together.”
“For a few hours, that would be acceptable, but where people are spending long periods of time there, it just isn’t,” he told Sky News.
Critics accuse Braverman of deliberately worsening conditions at Manston by refusing to book hotel rooms for asylum seekers.
The government said “large numbers” of people were being moved out of Manston on Tuesday to relieve pressure and that another facility in the port town of Dover that was firebombed on the weekend had reopened.
Just over 48,000 people applied for asylum in the U.K. in 2021, fewer than in Germany, France or Spain. But there has been a sharp increase in the number of people trying to cross the channel in dinghies and other small craft as alternative routes, such as stowing away on trucks, have become more difficult.
Some 40,000 people have made the hazardous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes so far this year, up from 28,000 in all of 2021 and 8,500 in 2020. Dozens have died, including 27 people in November 2021 when a packed smuggling boat capsized.
Britain and France have wrangled over how to stop the people-smuggling gangs that organize the journeys.
Britain’s government has announced a controversial plan to send people who arrive in small boats on a one-way journey to Rwanda — a plan it says will deter people from crossing the Channel and break the business model of smuggling gangs. Critics say the plan is immoral and impractical, and it is being challenged in the courts.
Follow all AP stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.