The asylum processing centre at Manston is understood to have more than double the number of people it is designed to accommodate on-site as of yesterday (October 30).
The troubled centre is said to have reached some 4,000 people following a petrol bombing incident at the Dover centre yesterday which resulted in 700 people being bussed from there to Manston. It is designed to hold between 1,000 and 1,500 people.
Government data also confirms some 990 people were detected making small boat crossings in 24 craft on Saturday and 468 in four craft on Sunday. This means almost 40,000 people have made the small boat Channel crossing this year compared to 8,466 in 2020.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale visited the Manston site yesterday with Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.
Sir Roger said: “I am grateful to the Minister for visiting Manston to see, the problems that we face, for himself. I would like to add my thanks to all the Border Force, civilian catering and medical staff for doing a difficult job under very challenging circumstances.
“Since I last visited four days ago another 1500 people have been added taking the total to 4,000 in a facility designed to hold half that number. That is not acceptable and this situation should not have been allowed to develop.
“I believe the Minister understands the need to return Manston to its proper capacity so they can continue to do the job they were doing so very well.”
A whistleblower from the site says security staff are having to step into the role provided by Interforce officers to alleviate pressures but security staff “do not have the protective equipment” that Interforce colleagues have.
The source also claimed “weapons are being made on site” – a claim denied by the Home Office – and there is “no security” onboard when people are moved out of the centre to alternative accommodation.
The whistleblower added that all people are shown care and understanding but officials “need to go there and see for themselves,” the situation at the centre.
Mr Jenrick said he was impressed with how staff were managing an “intolerable situation.”
He said: “I visited Manston to thank Home Office teams who continue to process migrants securely in challenging conditions. Over 1,000 migrants crossing the Channel creates immense pressure. I was hugely impressed by the staff I met, managing this intolerable situation.”
The Isle of Thanet News reported last week on concerns raised by the Prison Officers Association (POA) which says there is a ‘humanitarian crisis’ at the Manston asylum seekers processing site with infection outbreaks, people sleeping on carboard instead of mattresses inside marquees, tensions and instances of ‘use of force interventions’ rising and people detained for far longer than the mandated 24 hours.
Talking on a podcast POA Assistant General Secretary Andy Baxter said the original site was intended to provide short term facilities – 24 to 48 hours – for processing people who would then be moved to immigration removal centres or bailed into the community.
But people are now facing significantly longer periods in the centre due to the high numbers making small boat crossings. The site originally had four marquees and around 150 people per marquee were provided with roll out mattresses and bedding.
However, Mr Baxter says that during a two-day POA visit to the site they saw this had been expanded to 22 marquees and people in those tents are sleeping on cardboard with a blanket on top of them.
Amongst the issues he highlighted were reported cases of diphtheria – said to be 4 in a Home Affairs Committee hearing last week- scabies and norovirus. The Home Affairs Committee of families who had been at the centre for a month.
Mr Baxter said last week: “We believe this time next month there will be over 5,000 people being held in this facility. Are we really saying 5,000 people will be housed in tents over a British winter?”
This figure was strongly denied by the Home Office but yesterday the number had risen to 4000.
Mr Baxter also said bailing people came with “significant risk” and “current intelligence is that Albanian organised crime gangs are using small boat crossings to infiltrate criminal operators into the UK.”
He later added that a large number at the centre are single Albanian males. The issue of people from Albania coming into the UK on small boat crossings was also raised at the Home Affairs Committee. The committee heard two years ago the figure was 200, last year 800 and this year so far 12,000 of which 10,000 have been single, adult males.
Chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, told the Home Affairs Committee last week that he was shocked by the “wretched conditions” in the centre.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said: “The problems of this site formed a main part of a Kent MPs meeting with Suella Braverman. It is very easy to be critical of the facilities there and the delays which are unfortunate.
“It was designed to be a short-term reception centre as people were allocated to other accommodation around the country. Therein is the problem; we are now running out of available hotels and short-term accommodation. Local authorities around the country have been, not unexpectedly, unable to find appropriate accommodation to cope with the high recent numbers.
“I’m sorry to say there are no immediate solutions. A stop to the flow of the channel traffic is the solution and most notably if we were to implement a clear policy of refusal of any asylum claim from Albanians. Germany and Sweden have accepted zero claims for asylum from Albanians. Albania is a NATO country, an EU applicant country, a member of the Council of Europe with obligations under the ECHR. These account for a high proportion of those making the dinghy crossing.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has come under increasing fire over the situation at Manston.
Sir Roger has told national media that either the previous Home Secretary or Ms Braverman need “to be held to account” for decisions which have led to “a breach of humane conditions.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The number of people arriving in the UK via small boats has reached record levels and continues to put our asylum system under incredible pressure.
“Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible.
“We urge anyone who is thinking about leaving a safe country and risk their lives at the hands of vile people smugglers to seriously reconsider.
“Despite what they have been told, they will not be allowed to start a new life here.”
It is reported that there is now a proposal to expand the site at Manston by splitting the site to provide accommodation for ‘non-detained’ people after they have been processed.