The POA trade union, which represents members who work on contracts supporting Immigration Services and Border Force Officers, has raised concerns about the conditions and delays at Manston migrant processing centre.
The union says the target of holding people for 24-48 hours is “purely aspirational” with people actually detained at the centre for up to a week due to the large number of people brought to the site last month.
Members also report incidents of police being called to altercations and the centre running out of food and drink.
A statement says: “The POA have members on the ground at Manston who are tasked to care for residents whilst they go through that process, our members then provide escort to those who move to suitable onward accommodation.
“The large number of migrants arriving through September means that the target of holding people for 24 -48 hours is now purely aspirational, people are now staying at the Manston facility up a week.
“The POA were impressed by the Home Office and contractor mobilisation of the Manston site as it offered significant improvements over the facilities at Port of Dover’s Tug Haven site.
“However, the improved facility is now struggling to perform its role, and tensions within the site are rising.”
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.
There have been reports of incidents escalating, altercations between residents boiling over and resulting in injury with Kent Police having to be called to the site to investigate assaults and provide support to staff.
The statement adds: “The POA believe the failure to relieve this pressure sits at the highest level with a government that has not provided a coherent response at pace, to the increase in numbers of migrants crossing the channel and the strain that is putting on the facility.
“The POA are fully committed to the safety of our members working at the site and to the safety of those in the care of our members.
“We have been informed that there have been days, where the facility have run out of food and drinking water for residents.”
The union says marquee tents at the former RAF base are crowded and there is inadequate bedding and laundry facilities. Cleaning issues include high levels of condensation within the marquees leading to mould and bacteria developing.
The POA is writing to Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of prisons, to urge his inspectorate attend and assess the developing situation at the Manston STHF.
The statement says: “A high-level solution must be found to move residents on in a timely manner and allow Manston to return to its core function, a short-term holding facility.
“We will share our concerns with the Home Office, and we will engage with contractors on site around other safety concerns in relation to levels of supervision and a huge reliance on overtime as recruitment struggles to keep pace with the demands from the site.”
The Guardian this week reported that asylum seekers processed at Manston are being asked to source their own accommodation when they leave, leading to fears they will fall victim to traffickers.
The Home Office says people released from Manston after full security checks are on immigration bail and have to report to Home Office reporting centres.
The former Fire Training and Development Centre at Manston has been used since January this year for processing people that arrive in the country seeking asylum through ’irregular’ routes following the closure of Dover’s Tug Haven short-term immigration detention facilities. The purpose of the centre is to carry out security and identity checks.
The former fire training centre at Manston closed in 2020 with operations transferred to Moreton-in-Marsh.