Hundreds of asylum seekers have been moved to the ‘inhumane’ Manston processing centre in Kent, after a separate processing facility in Dover was petrol-bombed on Sunday. The Western Jet Foil centre was attacked by a man who, police confirmed, was later found dead nearby. Two individuals suffered injuries and 700 people were moved from the centre to Manston.
Almost 4,000 asylum seekers, including children, are being held at Manston processing centre in Thanet, which has a capacity of just 1,600. Overcrowding and poor conditions there have led to recent outbreaks of MRSA, diphtheria and scabies. The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, told the home affairs select committee he was left speechless by the centre’s “wretched” conditions.
The immigration and borders inspector, David Neal, tells MPs he was left "speechless" after visiting the short-term migrant detention centre in Manston, Kent on Monday and seeing the overcrowding and staffing situation. pic.twitter.com/hWL31ogcHT
— CJ McKinney (@mckinneytweets) October 26, 2022
The POA trade union, which represents members who work in immigration and border force services, described levels of bedding and cleaning there as “inadequate”. It said that the centre had run out of food and water on several occasions.
Conservative backbencher Sir Roger Gale told Sky News yesterday that there was a “breach of humane conditions” at the centre, which he described as “wholly unacceptable”.
Breaking the law
Asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, have been held at the centre for weeks, according to the Refugee Council, which has supported people who have been placed at Manston.
Under UK law, people are meant to be held no longer than 24 hours at the centre before being moved to immigration removal centres (IRCs) or asylum accommodation. The home secretary Suella Braverman has been accused of rejecting legal advice that said the government was detaining asylum seekers illegally.
Reports allege that Braverman ignored advice from government officials to rehouse asylum seekers in alternative accommodation in order to “put pressure” on civil servants to process claims faster. The government could face legal challenges and a public inquiry as a result.
Shoaib M Khan, a human rights barrister, called the conditions at Manston “illegal” and “inhumane”. He said that if the government had followed the law, the “extreme situation” there could have been prevented.
“In her very short tenures as home secretary, Suella Braverman has destroyed the system that was on the verge of collapse for months, if not years,” said Khan. “It is shameful and inhumane that due to her stubbornness, these vulnerable people have been exposed to serious diseases and unimaginable suffering.”
He added that he feared the “tragic fire-bombing” at the centre in Dover would perversely be used by media and politicians to attack asylum seekers held at centres, but hoped instead that it would serve as a “wake-up call” for the government.
Speaking in the House of Commons last night, home secretary Suella Braverman described asylum seekers arriving in the UK as an “invasion”. When asked about Braverman’s inflammatory choice of language, home office minister Robert Jenrick said this morning that he would never “demonise people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation. Claims advice was deliberately ignored are completely baseless. It is right we look at all available options so decisions can be made based on the latest operational and legal advice.”
They added: “The number of people arriving in the UK via small boats has reached record levels, which has put our asylum system under incredible pressure and costs the British taxpayer millions of pounds a day.”
The number of asylum claims in the UK remained fairly stable between 2005 and 2020. However, it rose last year due to more asylum seekers arriving in the UK on small boats rather than via other means. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, this rise was partly due to the “increased securitisation” of alternative, safer routes. Nonetheless, the number of applications in the last year was 25 per cent lower than in 2002, when applications peaked.
Calls to address asylum backlog
The time to process asylum claims has risen sharply to an average of 480 days, well above the six month target. According to charity Free Movement, the number of asylum seekers waiting more than six months for a decision to be made on their case has trebled since 2019.
Over 110 charities, including the Refugee Council, signed an open letter on Sunday calling for the home secretary to address the backlog in asylum cases and create safe and legal routes for asylum seekers.
The letter said: “When you complain about the cost of housing asylum seekers, you must be aware that, while people seeking safety did not choose to leave their homelands, they are willing to work and keen to contribute, if only the law permitted them.”
It called on Braverman to “deal with the backlog in asylum cases, create safe routes, respect international law and the UN convention on refugees, and give refugees a fair hearing, however they get here”.
It emphasised the UK’s history of offering sanctuary to refugees and called on the government to deliver a “fair, kind and effective” asylum system.