The UK needs to be better at deporting people who have no right to remain in the country, Damian Green said today.
The Immigration Minister pledged to tackle the "many failures in the asylum system" as he opened the largest immigration removal centre in Europe.
Two wings of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport in west London needed to be completely rebuilt after being burned down by detainees who wrecked cells and lit fires there in November 2006.
They used sheets and clothing to spell out the words "Help", "Freedom" and "SOS".
The more secure centre, which has been built to the standards of a category B prison, will house some of the "most challenging" detainees dealt with by the UK Borders Agency, mostly foreign criminals awaiting deportation after being released from jail, Mr Green said.
"In the past, Britain's not been good at removing people who aren't meant to be here," he said.
"It's important to make sure we remove people who have no right to be in this country."
Doubling the size of the centre will enable it "to run a safer regime than has been run in the past," Mr Green said.
"It's more secure, it's built to higher standards and the fact of it being more secure means you can run a regime inside the detention centre that will allow tensions to be kept at a low level so you're less likely to see the scenes we saw in 2006.
"No-one wants to see a repeat of the fire we had in 2006 when clearly things had gone badly wrong.
"The many failures in the asylum system will be tackled vigorously."
Asked about the "debate" in the Cabinet over the Government's plans for a cap on immigration, Mr Green said: "Britain is open for business but Britain has been too often a soft touch for illegal immigration.
"Britain is no longer a soft touch.
"Those who have no right to be here need to be removed."
The centre, which houses 332 inmates today at an average cost of £120 per night, is expected to reach its full capacity of 615 within six-to-eight weeks.
Detainees, whose cells are equipped with bunk beds, TVs and desks, stay an average of 46 days, but this ranges from one night to 19 months.Reuse content