People have gathered outside the Manston asylum processing centre for a second demonstration demanding the site is shut down.
Members from local and national groups, such as Detention Action, SOAS Detention Support and, more locally, Thanet Left, say the situation is “disgraceful and shameful.”
SOAS Detainee Support members threw paper planes over the fences to those inside the centre. They contained a message: “One day, we will live side by side, and our community will be your community.” People inside the centre could be seen waving banners and white flags.
Thanet councillor Aram Rawf, previously an asylum seeker before gaining British citizenship, spoke at the demonstration. He said: “No one should be taken in by what’s happening here. The government is simply using asylum-seekers as scapegoats for the effects of years of cuts and austerity. What the government needs to do is provide a safe route for asylum seekers to come to this country.”
District councillor Mark Hopkinson was one of those in attendance today. He said: “”I and several other Thanet District Councillors attended the rally at Manston today to express solidarity with the men, women and children detained in inhumane conditions there despite being at no fault themselves.
“The legal right to claim asylum in the UK is open to everyone and we should be proud of our openness, tolerance and ability to help those in distress.
“Secondly, it’s important to send a message to the government that as a local community we won’t accept conditions like this that have led to a diphtheria outbreak and other serious problems affecting those in the camp.
“TDC Cllr Aram Rawf spoke eloquently and passionately today. He himself was an asylum seeker who was initially detained at Dover and is now a fantastic contributor to our community and a brilliant Cllr. We can’t demonise people just for seeking a better life for themselves.
“People are rightly angry about a dire economic situation we are facing, but we need to keep our focus on the real causes of that, namely, a chaotic Tory government and an economic system that just isn’t delivering for ordinary working people.”
Around a dozen Kent Police officers were in attendance at the demo while the crowd chanted and raised placards with messages including ‘refugees welcome.’
The centre has been in the headlines after cases of diphtheria were reported last month and then cases of scabies and other sickness viruses also came to light.
The issues were then compounded by overcrowding following a high volume of small boat Channel crossings and then a firebomb attack at the Dover immigration facility that necessitated the move of 700 people seeking asylum to Manston. This brought the number of people held at the centre to around 4,000 when capacity is 1600 maximum.
Added to this pressure was the inability to move people out after the mandated 24/48 hours for processing, resulting in people being at the centre for as long as a month – breaching the UK’s own laws.
Campaigners say the result is inhumane conditions for the men, women and children detained at Manston.
The overcrowding also causes pressures for staff who need to deal with rising tensions and manage more than double the amount of people the facility was intended for, while there is also the issue of finding suitable accommodation for people who have been processed.
The government says more than 1,000 people were moved off-site last week, helping to reduce numbers and put Manston onto a more sustainable footing.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who visited the centre on Thursday, says action is being taken to bolster the 24/7 medical facilities already on-site, bring in extra bedding and improved catering facilities and provide more activities, including for children.
However, a legal challenge is being sought over the extended detention time at Manston and other issues, such as a lack of access to legal advice.
On Monday 1st November, an urgent, pre-action letter was sent to the office of the Home Secretary on behalf of the charity Detention Action and a woman held at the Manston facility.
The letter represents the first legal action taken against the Home Secretary for “the unlawful treatment of people held at the facility.”
The charity Detention Action provides support and practical advice to people held in immigration detention.
Detention Action and the individual female claimant are represented by Duncan Lewis solicitors.
The letter contended that the individual woman claimant, a national of a non-European country, was unlawfully detained by the Home Secretary at the Manston facility in ‘egregiously defective conditions’. The letter also states ‘It is emphasised on behalf of Detention Action that the complaint includes serious threats to the safety of children.’
James Wilson, Deputy Director of Detention Action, said: “We have taken this action out of serious concern for the welfare of thousands of people, including children, still being detained at Manston for periods far beyond legal limits. We are calling on the Home Secretary to declare that anyone held at Manston for more than 24 hours is being detained unlawfully. We are also asking that the Home Secretary allow access to the facility for organisations qualified to provide support in immigration detention settings.”
Accommodation is being procured by the Home Office to alleviate issues of overcrowding at processing centres including Manston. North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said earlier this week he is confident Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick will “get a handle” on the situation.
One of the sites procured is the former student accommodation on the ex-Canterbury Christ Church University campus in Broadstairs.
People who are seeking asylum moved in to the 86 room site this weekend. It is being operated by Clearsprings Ready Homes which has a 10-year contract to manage asylum seeker accommodation in England and Wales.
Thanet council and the district MPs were not informed of the site’s use prior to people being moved in.
Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee said she was “absolutely dismayed” that the authority was not notified or consulted about the use of former student accommodation to house people seeking asylum – and revealed a council offer to lease the site for emergency homelessness accommodation had been in progress.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said he did not think the site was ‘ideal.’
A Home Office spokesperson previously said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who seek asylum and require accommodation has reached record levels, placing unprecedented pressures on the asylum system.
“The Government is working with all local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to provide more suitable accommodation for asylum seekers and to end the unacceptable use of hotels, with more than £21 million in grant funding already been provided to local authorities to help them respond to challenges in their area.”