Demonstration at Manston against asylum seeker removal flights to Rwanda

Protest at Manston Photo Christabel Smith

Demonstrators are currently outside the immigration processing centre in Manston to protest at the removal of people seeking asylum  to Rwanda under a partnership announced by UK government in April.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new Migration and Economic Development Partnership saying it “will mean that anyone entering the UK illegally – as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1st – may now be relocated to Rwanda.”

The Prime Minister claims the scheme will disrupt people smuggling  gangs and thwart economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system.

Photo Elke Heckel

He claimed: “Those in genuine need will be properly protected, including with access to legal services on arrival in Rwanda, and (will be) given the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country, supported by the funding we are providing.”

But the plan to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda has sparked outrage from charity and support groups, church leaders, opposition MPs and many others.

Photo Christabel Smith

Last ditch legal challenges in the High Court against the removals have failed and now the first flight is expected to leave this evening (June 14) from the Ministry of Defence’s airport in Boscombe Down, Amesbury, Salisbury.

Stop Deportations demonstrators are also blockading exits from Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, near London’s Heathrow airport.

Met Police officers remain at the scene and two arrests have been made.

UPDATE: The flight was stopped minutes before scheduled take-off after a late intervention from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) led to fresh challenges in the UK courts.

At Manston the former Fire Training and Development Centre has been commandeered for use for processing those that arrive in the country seeking asylum after arriving by small boats. This follows the closure of Dover’s Tug Haven short-term immigration detention facilities.

Photo Christabel Smith

Last December the Home Office confirmed that part of the Ministry of Defence site at Manston would be a processing centre for asylum seekers.

The secure site holds people for up to five days as security and identity checks are completed. Short term initial accommodation is provided.

The Home Office says people are brought there for initial screening and processing before going onto longer term accommodation.

Photo Elke Heckel

People who travel to the UK through routes such as the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy or Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will not be taken to Manston, say government.

According to the Immigration Enforcement Secretariat the Home Office use of Manston is “a triage site for individuals arriving  via small boats to confirm peoples’ identity and conduct security checks, initial asylum  screening and processing before people are moved to suitable accommodation locations  as quickly as possible.”

They added: “Individuals will not be housed at the Manston site. The former Manston RAF base will operate as a non- residential Short-Term Holding Facility (STHF) where people can be detained for a normal  maximum of up to 24 hours under Rule 6 of the Short-Term Holding Facility Rules 2018  though there is provision to extend detention beyond this point in  exceptional circumstances.

Photo Elke Heckel

“Individuals who arrive in the UK by clandestine means, may  be held by Asylum and Protection for a short time at a STHF to resolve their position  before being dispersed through appropriate routes.”

Recruitment to staff the centre is currently taking place with some 380 roles to be filled.

Agency Brook Street is currently recruiting for around 80 staff and Mitie is recruiting for care and custody officers for Manston and have about 300 vacancies to fill.

The government says the deal with Rwanda is uncapped and the country “will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead.”

Photo Elke Heckel

A High Court and Court of Appeal legal challenge brought by groups including Care4Calais – who have coordinated protests tonight against the scheme – have also failed.

In April a Thanet councillor who was eventually granted British citizenship after fleeing Iraq  condemned the government announcement that people would be sent to the east African country of Rwanda.

Cllr Aram Rawf

Aram Rawf arrived in the UK as a 17-year-old after fleeing Iraq in the back of a lorry. He had been taken to a mountain camp in  northern Iraq – previously Kurdistan – and tortured by extremists for two month after he refused to train as a suicide bomber.

A ruse by his older sister saw him taken to hospital and then on to his escape.

More than twenty years later Aram is a British citizen, a Labour Party Thanet councillor, a volunteer and a campaigner.

The 40-year-old, who lives and works in Broadstairs, said: “Boris Johnson’s government has reached a new low with the latest ruling on sending refugees to Rwanda. Britain is short of workers, the NHS has huge staff vacancies. Having alienated European workers the government now wants them again.

“Yet it is prepared to spend a fortune flying people to Rwanda to meet their fate in a country condemned on its human rights record and thousands of miles from anyone who can check on their safety.

Photo Elke Heckel

“What kind of thinking is this?  It won’t stop refugees fleeing disasters or war or dictatorships. Common humanity is completely lacking in this policy as is basic common sense. And if you think Manston airport should be saved, are you willing to see flights leaving there with people being taken to an uncertain and possibly lethal future?

“As a former asylum seeker I condemn this policy wholeheartedly and as a human being I condemn the politicians who can invent such cruelty.”

Former asylum seeker, now a Thanet councillor, slams UK plan to send ‘illegal route’ migrants to Rwanda