Watch: Tory MP skewers Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman was left floundering when a senior Tory MP challenged her to explain how an orphan from an African country could make an asylum claim in the UK.
The exchange came amid widespread criticism of the home secretary for her management of asylum seekers in recent months.
During an appearance before the home affairs committee on Wednesday, Braverman was grilled by the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton, on the issue of child refugees.
"[Let's say] I'm a 16-year-old orphan from an East African country escaping a war zone and religious persecution," Loughton said.
"And I have a sibling legally in the United Kingdom... what is the safe and legal route for me to come to the United Kingdom?"
Braverman, left visibly uncomfortable by the question, floundered – seemingly unable to give a comprehensive answer.
"Well... we have an asylum system and people can put in applications... I would do that," she said.
"We offer 390,000 places to people seeking safety from various countries around the world."
However, Loughton pressed Braverman, pointing out that asylum seekers from countries in Africa do not benefit from arrangements like the Homes for Ukraine or Afghan Resettlement Scheme.
A previous scheme – known as the Dubs Amendment – that might have provided a solution has since closed.
Loughton then asked Braverman if the only way for an orphan from an African country to claim asylum in the UK is if they arrive "illegally" by crossing the Channel on a small boat before lodging a claim.
Braverman then seemed to indicate that the best solution was for child orphans to find their own way to the UK: "If you put in your application for asylum upon arrival that would be the process that you enter."
The home secretary has previously described the UK as a "generous and compassionate" country, but the exchange highlights a significant failing in the UK's asylum policy for some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world.
Her comments triggered a backlash with Labour MP and daughter of refugees Feryal Clark describing the home secretary as "utterly clueless".
"From putting national security at risk, to not understanding the immigration and asylum system she is in charge of, she is totally unfit for the job," said Clarke.
According to the Home Office, the UK's "family reunion provisions allow qualifying family members... to be reunited with a family member who has been granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK, unless the applicant and/or the family member should be excluded from protection or criminality thresholds apply".
However, the process has been criticised for being increasingly restrictive – with the Refugee Council warning that former home secretary Priti Patel's nationality and borders bill has all but destroyed vital routes out of conflict for women and children.
"Refugee family reunion provides a safe way for family members to join someone who has already been granted refugee status in the UK," said the Refugee Council. "The government’s nationality and borders bill will all but destroy this vital route out of conflict for women and children.
"Over the last five years as many as 29,000 people have been able to come to the UK safely under refugee family reunion, over 90% of whom were women and children. New rules for asylum will severely restrict refugee family reunion."
More than 40,000 people have made the dangerous journey across the Channel this year to claim asylum in the UK.
What safe and legal routes to the UK are there for asylum seekers?
The UK currently operates a number safe and legal routes for those seeking refuge:
Refugee resettlement is available through the UK resettlement scheme, community sponsorship, and the mandate scheme
Some people quality for refugee family reunion visas if they are immediate relatives of people granted refuge in the UK, before they left their country of origin
Separate visa routes are available to some Afghans, Ukrainians, and people from Hong Kong
Watch: Deal struck with France in bid to curb migrant Channel crossings