Thanet councillors will discuss the issue of the Manston asylum processing centre at a meeting this month.
Labour councillors on the authority say they asked for an emergency meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny panel to raise the issue of conditions at the centre which had been at more than double its planned capacity this month but add the request was denied.
However, scrutiny chairman Stuart Piper denies an emergency meeting was asked for. The issue has, however, been added to the agenda for the next panel meeting on November 24.
At the end of October the centre had reached some 4000 people being held despite only having capacity for up to 1,600, partly due to 1,458 people detected making small boat Channel crossings over that weekend and a petrol bomb attack at the Dover migration site meaning some 700 people had to be moved immediately to Manston.
Just prior to the significant overcrowding concerns were raised by the Prison Officers Association (POA) which said there was a ‘humanitarian crisis’ at the site with 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.
The system has also been hampered by huge backlogs in the Home Office processing asylum claims. Other issues raised this month include reported cases of diphtheria – said to be 4 in a recent Home Affairs Committee hearing – scabies and norovirus.
This month North Thanet MP Roger Gale praised staff at the centre for managing under challenging conditions and said facilities are a good standard with heated marquees and roll mats for sleeping on. He added: “Staff are busting a gut and trying very hard to look after people well.”
Today members of the Home Affairs Committee along with members from @Commonswomequ and @HumanRightsCtte are visiting Manston asylum processing centre. pic.twitter.com/312inktjsw
— Home Affairs Committee (@CommonsHomeAffs) November 8, 2022
A visit by the Home Affairs Committee yesterday (November 8) found that although numbers had been significantly reduced there were still issues.
Dame Diana Johnson MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said: “What the Home Affairs Committee saw at Manston revealed that while overcrowding has reduced, and staff are making valiant efforts to improve conditions for detainees, the crisis is not over.
“We encountered families who had been sleeping on mats on the floor for weeks. Meanwhile there are ongoing questions about the legality of the Home Secretary’s decision to detain people at the site for longer than 24 hours.
“The Home Office has been running to keep up with this escalating crisis, rather than warding it off at the outset through planning and preparation.
“The numbers of people crossing the Channel in small boats this year will not have been a surprise to the Government, so why were adequate preparations not made?
“This question matters – because we may still see another major upsurge in the number of people arriving at Manston before the end of this year. The Home Secretary needs to end this crisis once and for all. That requires dealing with the backlog in the asylum system and establishing a system that is efficient and fair.”
A Thanet Labour Party statement says: “In recognition of the deep concern from residents and members regarding the failures of central processes for those seeking asylum, Thanet Labour Group has requested an emergency Overview and Scrutiny meeting to specifically address the conditions at Manston, and the provision of asylum services overall.
“This request was not accepted; however, the council has included the asylum processing centre onto the agenda for the Overview and Scrutiny meeting to be held at 7pm on Thursday 24th November.
“We are given to understand that Craig Mackinlay MP has asked to be in attendance and we look forward to hearing how these failures in central governance came about and will be solved.
“Humanity, dignity and fairness in housing is an issue on which Labour have campaigned continuously for years, both in beginning our in-house temporary housing service with the founding of Foy House to keep local families in area, and in campaigning for safe housing for those currently facing a drawn out and degrading asylum process.
“The conditions at Manston and how this impacts both our local residents and our housing crisis is an issue that needs to be addressed now, and this meeting cannot come soon enough.”
Cllr Piper says he has asked both MPS for Thanet to attend to give an update on the local, asylum seeker situation.
He added: “The reason I delayed the scheduled meeting (planned for November 22) was to enable the Committee to invite the MPs.
“There are two issues at least. One is Manston, which is a processing centre not a detention centre and the other was the sudden influx of migrants from as far away a Hemel Hempstead into the old university building just off Northwood Road. last weekend.”