By Victor Falcon Mmegwa
A report on the Manston immigration centre has seen it be described as “unacceptable” by an independent watchdog that monitors the centre. The Manston immigration centre originally opened in February 2022 to process migrants who arrived in the UK on small boats. It is designed for around 1,000 people to stay for one day.
The centre is located on the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre next to Manston Airport about 20 miles north of Dover. Security, identity, and health checks are conducted on the migrants before they are moved into accommodation. Migrants who do not pass the checks are moved to immigration detention centres.
What are the problems with Manston?
Representatives from the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) made a total of 85 visits in 2022 to three Home Office processing centres for small boat arrivals – Manston, Western Jet Foil and Kent Intake Unit.
The IMB report found that each of the centres struggled to cope with an ever-increasing number of arrivals and identified serious concerns about the conditions in which people were being held. This was particularly the case at Manston immigration centre.
The report states: “At Manston, detained individuals were accommodated in marquees which we would describe as at best basic, at worst unsanitary and unacceptable.”
The local Conservative MP Roger Gale said there were around 4,000 migrants at the centre, which he described as overwhelmed. Despite this, some migrants are having to spend longer at the centre due to a lack of accommodation elsewhere.
Last autumn, the UK Health Security Agency warned that accommodation settings should be considered high-risk for infectious diseases. The Home Office suspected that a man’s death at the centre in November could have been caused by a diphtheria infection.
“Filthy conditions” at Manston
Furthermore, problems included filthy conditions, claims of assaults by guards, drug taking by guards, and the mass dumping at a central London station of asylum seekers who were moved away from Manston.
The report also stated that the army was drafted in to help with processing small boat arrivals alongside Home Office officials. Various contractors such as Mitie Care & Custody and Interforce were also used.
At first, small boat arrivals were sleeping on gym mats in the Manston marquees. However, the Home Office decided they were a fire risk and removed them, leaving people to sleep on the cold floor with just blankets to lie on. While asylum seekers were supposed to only be held in Manston for 24 hours, many were unlawfully detained there for longer. Indeed, the longest known case was of someone being held there for 43 days.
The report highlights problems with clothing. Some asylum seekers had to share coats as there weren’t enough to go around, a practice which the IMB feared could have spread scabies, a disease which was already common on the site. There was also not always suitable clothing available for young children and one instance saw a small child fall over due to wearing oversized clothing. The security guards did not always have suitable clothing and when the weather was cold and wet, they had to wrap themselves in bin bags to protect themselves from the elements.
Overcrowding at the Manston immigration centre is in part due to the backlog of asylum claims waiting to be processed, which totals almost 100,000. Whilst a rise in claims since 2019 has contributed to the backlog, a Home Affairs select committee report was published stating that antiquated IT systems, high staff turnover, and too few staff were contributing to the slow processing of claims.
Legal advice ignored
It has been reported that the Home Secretary Suella Braverman failed to act on legal advice that migrants and asylum seekers were being held at the site for an unlawful amount of time. It was also reported that Braverman had deliberately chosen not to sign off on hotels for Manston detainees to be transferred to in an attempt to reduce the £6.8 million a day government bill. A Home Office spokesperson denied that legal advice given to Braverman was ignored.
The Home Office have stated that they are grateful for the important work of the Independent Monitoring Board. Since the report, there have been significant improvements made to the Kent coast short-term holding facilities. This includes the transformation of medical services and facilities and the move to new more suitable accommodation at the Kent Intake Unit. The Home Office have also stated that the health and welfare of people in their care, and individuals working in these facilities, is of the utmost importance.
An immigration solicitor’s thoughts
Manston immigration centre is a processing centre. Therefore, no one should be held there more than 24 hours. I think the Home Office has broken the law by detaining people for weeks in appalling conditions, as highlighted in this article. More must be done for the necessary checks to be conducted on migrants and more must be done for asylum claims to be processed quickly. This will enable migrants to be moved into accommodation as quickly and safely as possible.
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