Protest vigil to be held demanding Manston asylum processing centre is ‘shut down’

Manston processing centre Photo Swift Aerial Photography

A vigil will be held outside Manston asylum processing centre on Wednesday (November 2) by campaigners demanding the site is shut down.

The centre has been in the spotlight following revelations of overcrowding, infection outbreaks and rising tensions with concerns raised that the site has “passed the point of safety” and the Prison Officers Association branding it a “humanitarian crisis on British soil.”

Yesterday the troubled centre is said to have been holding some 4,000 people following a petrol bombing incident at the Dover centre which resulted in 700 people being bussed from there to Manston. It is designed to hold between 1,000 and 1,500 people.

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.

Manston processing centre Photo Frank Leppard

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. Today (October 31) the Guardian reported a case of ‘superbug’ MRSA had also been reported in an asylum seeker who was moved from Manston to a hotel outside of Kent before those results were confirmed.

The Home Affairs Committee was last week told of families who had been at the centre for between two weeks and a month.

This issue had also been raised by Mr Baxter on the POA podcast as opening up legal implications due to stays stretching far beyond the mandated 24 hours for processing.

He said: “The majority of people on site are being held without warrant, they are simply being detained for making an ‘illegal’ crossing. There are huge potential legal implications for the government and the British taxpayer.”

Issues of untrained staff undertaking duties have also been raised.

Campaigners say the conditions are inhumane and the centre needs to be shut.

‘Immediate action’ needed

Photo Swift Aerial Photography

The Refugee Council says the crisis is entirely of ministers own making –  claiming they were warned a year ago that there would be record numbers of people coming across the channel in search of protection but they failed to put in place contingency measures.

The Refugee Council says government must now take immediate action “to alleviate the inhumane conditions at the Manston processing centre and tackle the growing backlog in asylum claims”

The charity has set out a six-point action plan which it says ministers could immediately put in place:

  • Immediately stand up a dedicated and well-resourced task force to clear the 120,000 backlog of asylum claims, which is costing £5.6m a day on hotels
  • Convene a summit of refugee and migration experts, local authorities and housing providers to examine options for short and long term accommodation for people seeking asylum
  • Quickly put in place good quality reception facilities to meet needs when they arrive
  • Consider options for humanitarian visas which people seeking asylum could apply for at embassies and other official sites
  • Urgent talks with the French government and other EU countries to discuss the growing global refugee crisis and to further crack down on people smugglers
  • Give people seeking asylum the right to work after six months

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:  “This is an appalling and inhumane situation but it can be addressed if ministers are prepared to have focused conversations with organisations such as ours and others. There are ways through this situation, which is causing untold human misery to thousands of vulnerable people fleeing war, persecution and conflict.

“Ministers have deliberately focused on making the system harsh and austere rather than focusing on putting resources and capacity in place to treat people with compassion and respect.

“Behind every case there is a face. For every person risking their life in a boat on the channel or living their life in limbo in a hotel, separated from family, there is a human story. People come to the UK seeking protection because we have a reputation as a country which believes in the right to claim asylum. It is a proud tradition which is being increasingly tarnished by the appalling way in which we are treating people in 2022.”

Channel crossings

Recorded small boat Channel crossings show just under 40,000 arriving in the UK so far this year. In 2021, it was 28,526 people and in 2020 it was 8,404.

The processing centre at MoD Manston, on the site of the former fire training school, opened in February this year.

The Home Office planned for 1,000 to 1,600 people passing through each day and checks to be completed in 24 hours.

The cost of people seeking asylum being housed in hotels is currently £5.6m per day. This does not include accommodation for Afghan families which is an additional £1.2m per day, the Home Affairs Committee was told last week.

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.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she will visit Manston “shortly.” She told Parliament it was “practically impossible” the procure 1,000 beds at short notice but the Manston site has been expanded.

She also acknowledged: “We need to meet our statutory duties around detention and also fulfil legal duties around those who would otherwise be destitute.”

She added people travelling from “safe countries” are “not welcome.” She said the government is “resolute” on making “illegal” entrance to the UK “unviable.”

The vigil will be held on Wednesday at 7pm, meeting by the Manston Spitfire Museum.