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Social Justice

What is happening at the Manston migrant centre?

Days without food and water, inadequate bedding, overcrowding and outbreaks of illness have been reported at the Manston migrant centre

Thousands of people at the Manston migrant centre in Kent are facing “dangerous overcrowding, inhumane living conditions and outbreaks of infectious diseases”.

Home secretary Suella Braverman has been accused of failing to act on legal advice given weeks ago, calling on the government to rehouse asylum seekers at Manston in hotels and other accommodation. 

There are believed to be around 4,000 migrants currently housed at the centre which was designed to process up to 1,600 people. Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet where the migrant centre is based, has said it is “not acceptable and this situation should not have been allowed to develop”. 

A further 1,500 people have arrived at the centre in the last four days, according to Gale. This is partly due to an arson attack at a border force migrant centre in nearby Dover, in which a man allegedly threw “petrol bombs with fireworks attached” before killing himself.

Two people inside the centre suffered minor injuries in the attack, but no one else was hurt. Hundreds of people from the Dover centre were transported to Manston. Meanwhile, over 1,000 more migrants arrived in Dover over the weekend having crossed the Channel, according to the government. 

What are the conditions at the Manston migrant centre?

A damning report earlier this month by the Prisons Officers Association (POA), which represents custody officers working on the site, expressed “concerns” about conditions at Manston. 

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According to the report, there have been days where the facility has run out of food and drinking water for residents. It added that “levels of bedding on site have become inadequate, laundry facilities are inadequate, cleaning regimes are not adhered to” and mould and bacteria is growing.

It revealed there were “tensions within the site” and “altercations between residents boiling over and resulting in injury with police having to be called to investigate assaults and provide support to staff”. 

Father clutching his daughter’s hand at the Manston migration centre. Image: SOAS Detainee Support (SDS)
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A POA member working at the site likened the situation to a “pressure cooker coming to the boil with a jammed release valve”. She described the ability to move people on from the site in a timely manner as that pressure release valve.

The site is designed to house people for 24 to 48 hours. The report earlier this month said people have stayed at the Manston facility for up to a week. ITV’s Robert Peston reports that some asylum seekers have now been in the facility for three to four weeks. According to The Guardian, this includes unaccompanied children. 

There have allegedly been outbreaks of diseases like diphtheria and MRSA on the site. The increasing overcrowding is only making conditions worse. 

What is happening at the Manston migrant centre now?

Witnesses have reported concerning scenes from outside the centre’s barbed wire gates. A coalition of organisations called Action Against Detention and Deportations held a small protest at Manston on Sunday. Video footage shows children chanting: “Freedom, freedom, freedom.” In a second video captured by the group, someone is heard saying: “We need your help.” 

A spokesperson for AADD said: “This is a life-threatening situation. Unless people are moved into safe accommodation immediately, lives will be lost from a highly contagious disease, abuse or neglect. People arriving at this camp have fled war, persecution, poverty and climate breakdown. How many are women and children traumatised by rape and other torture? 

“People have the right to settle and to claim asylum and protection in the UK. The government is breaking international law and any humane standard by imprisoning people, including children, in these conditions. The childrens’ cries of ‘freedom’ and ‘we need your help’ are a haunting indictment of the British border regime.”

What has the government said about it?

Home secretary Suella Braverman said her thoughts are with “those affected” by the incident in Dover, but she is yet to comment publicly on the Manston migrant centre. 

She is being accused of failing to book hotel rooms for the asylum seekers after being advised to do so weeks ago. According to ITV’s Peston, both Braverman and her predecessor Priti Patel rejected advice from home office officials.

Patel reportedly booked such rooms for a time, but then stopped months before resigning as home secretary. In his few days as home secretary, Grant Shapps is believed to have started booking hotel rooms. 

Braverman is expected to make a statement to MPs on Monday afternoon regarding the fire attack in Dover and the conditions at Manston. 

Immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, visited the centre on Sunday. He said on Twitter: “Today I visited Manston to thank Home Office teams who continue to process migrants securely in challenging conditions.

“Over 1,000 migrants crossing the Channel yesterday creates immense pressure. I was hugely impressed by the staff I met, managing this intolerable situation.”

When contacted by the Big Issue, Jenrick said he would not be commenting further until the home secretary has addressed MPs. 

A spokesperson for Downing Street told the BBC there is “no silver bullet” in tackling the migrant crisis. 

They said: “We do want to proceed with the Rwanda policy, which we believe will have a significant deterrent effect. But there is a great deal of work that needs to be done across the board before we make further progress.”

What are MPs, campaigners and charities calling for the government to do? 

The MP Sir Roger Gale said the situation is a “breach of humane conditions”. He blamed his own government for the problems, telling Sky News: “These circumstances, I believe now, were a problem made in the Home Office.”

He called for an end to “dog-whistle” politics and said actionable solutions were needed instead. “Because of the Home Office decision not to book hotel space, the inevitable has happened,” he told Good Morning Britain. The government has denied these claims. 

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “The appalling state into which successive home secretaries have driven our asylum system is now being vividly exposed.

“Human misery, deprivation and abuse are being inflicted upon people who have done nothing but exercise their legal right to seek safety in the UK.

 “Choosing to respond to people seeking asylum with punishment and cruelty is not merely a gross injustice of our immigration system. It is proving to be a hugely expensive exercise in moral depravity right at the heart of how we are all governed.”

Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, policy and public affairs manager at charity Praxis, said: “The situation in Manston is yet another example of Home Office cruelty and neglect, alongside plans to deport people seeking asylum to Rwanda, and forcing thousands to survive on just £40 per week for months and even years in some cases while their asylum case is pending. 

“We desperately need a Home Office rooted in humanity, which can ensure that people seeking safety have somewhere safe to live and are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

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