During an evidence hearing with the Lords home affairs and justice committee on Wednesday, the home secretary told MPs that the use of hotels as asylum accommodation were a “pull factor” for people to enter the country illegally.
But Patel is “peddling dangerous myths” about asylum seekers that “quickly become the rallying cries of the far right”, the chief executive of Refugee Action said.
Tim Naor Hilton added: “The government must stop its vile policy of whipping up hatred against families fleeing violence and persecution and fix the asylum system that its own incompetence has broken.”
Patel told the committee that single men arriving on small boats were “economic migrants” and were not coming to the UK to flee persecution.
But Labour MP Neil Coyle disputed Patel, saying that the Home Office “finds most [asylum seekers] genuine” and the department “picks the hotels”.
He added: “[Patel] is not one to let facts get in the way of the filthy Tory culture war.”
Earlier this year, a group of asylum seekers staying in a hotel in Reading went on hunger strike in protest at poor food and lengthy asylum claims.
Some of those staying at the hotel claimed they had been housed in rooms for over eight months and complained that the food was unhealthy and insufficient.
Watch: Migrants arrive in Dover after attempting Channel crossing
During Wednesday’s committee hearing, Patel raised concerns about many asylum seekers being houses in hotels when asked about plans to introduce reception centres for large groups of refugees.
She blamed the pandemic of the use of hotels, telling MPs: “We’ve ended up having to put people into hotel accommodation and I’m afraid, I think it’s pretty suboptimal.
“It is counterproductive; I think it’s also acted as a pull factor for people to come to the country illegally, thinking that they’re going to end up in hotels.”
A report by the Refugee Council claimed that people in the hotels are given £8 a week, are left without adequate food and clothing and have to share rooms with strangers.
Patel recently announced a new policy of not considering asylum claims of anyone passing through a “safe” country before arriving in the UK.
She told the committee hearing: "In last year, 70% of individuals on small boats are single men who are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers.
“They are literally elbowing because they are able to pay the smugglers and get in contact with gangs…
“These are the ones elbowing the women and children who are absolutely at risk and fleeing persecution.”
Patel’s comments came as it was feared as many as three people could be missing at sea after a boat tried to cross waters from France to the UK earlier this week.
But she insisted efforts to tackle migrant crossings – which allows Border Force officers to turn migrant boats around at sea back towards France – are about “saving lives and stopping people drowning”.
She told the committee hearing: “We don’t want to see people dying at sea. We want to stop people drowning at sea. I can’t emphasise this enough.”
Speaking this morning, Patel added: “It is a tragedy. It is an absolute tragedy, it really is.
“Clearly there are investigations taking place right now so we have to let that investigation process occur.
“But I can give everyone solid, solid assurance that my work with both France and other counterparts as well is very much based on stopping the loss of life.”
Earlier this week, a judge ruled that Brent Council acted unlawfully when placing three unaccompanied asylum-seekers in a hotel pending assessments of their age.
The three asylum-seekers argued that the council had not met obligations under legislation governing the care of children.
Since the start of the year, more than 17,000 migrants have succeeded in reaching the UK – double the figure for the whole of 2020.
Watch: Aerial shots show UK Border Force collecting migrants