The Manston processing centre has not been stood down by the Home Office and is undergoing a deep clean and adjustments, a meeting of Thanet councillors was told this week.
All people who had been at the centre were moved on to accommodation earlier this week. Councillors at an Overview and Scrutiny meeting on Thursday were told by chief executive Colin Carmichael that it is thought the people were moved to sites outside of the county.
Thanet council’s housing director Bob Porter said a Home Office representative told him the centre will likely be used again.
He said: “(There was) a meeting led by Folkestone and Hythe District Council inviting representatives from the Home Office and partners to talk about some of the issues.
“There was a representative from the Home Office involved in the management of Manston processing centre that I had a conversation with.
“The information I got from that conversation was that there happened to be no refugees/asylum seekers at the centre at the moment but it had not been stood down by the Home Office and if there are further arrivals they would continue to use the centre.”
In response to a question from Cllr Phil Fellows, Mr Porter also revealed that continued use of the Manston centre would mean planning consents will need to be sought next year.
He said: “In relation to the Manston centre, we are not aware of any planning processes that have been followed in relation to the centre.
“The advice that we have had, and we are investigating it further, is the Home Office would be able to continue to use that until some time next year when they would, at that point, need to obtain some kind of planning approval for their use of that site, That would not necessarily have to come through (Thanet council), it could be determined at a county or national level. But at some point the planning issues at Manston would need to be resolved.”
Clearspring Ready Homes
However, Mr Porter said the student accommodation at the former Canterbury Christ Church University campus at Broadstairs which government contractor Clearsprings Ready Homes took on to accommodate people seeking asylum earlier this month would not be used again.
He said: “We are in contact with the owners of the university building. The exact status of the agreement Clearsprings had with the owners is not entirely clear but we do understand that they do not intend to use it again.”
Council leader Ash Ashbee said in future the council would receive 24 hours notice before Clearsprings used any accommodation on the isle.
Clearsprings Ready Homes has two Home Office contracts to provide accommodation for people seeking asylum. The value of these is £662 million for operations in the South and £334 million for Wales totalling £996 million for the 10 year period.
24 hours notice
Cllr Ashbee said following the overcrowding issue at Manston when the centre was holding some 4000 people rather than the 1600 it was designed for, the Home Office put in place arrangements with Clearsprings to lease accommodation in Kent and elsewhere.
She added: “TDC and other affected councils were given no notice of this operation nor given any notice of any hotels or other facilities that were being leased.
“I was a signatory of a letter to the Home Secretary from all Kent leaders setting out the very detrimental effects these arrangements were having on the county and district services.”
Cllr Ashbee says she believes that objections made, including from Thanet’s two MPs, led to the university accommodation site being stood down by Clearsprings.
She added that a meeting of Kent leaders and chief executives with immigration minister Robert Jenrick had led to acknowledgement that this had been badly handled and assurance that councils would receive 24 hours notice of any leasing arrangements in their area in future.
She added: “To date we have received no notifications.”
During the meeting a number of councillors, including Cllr Aram Rawf who came to the UK seeking asylum when he was a teenager, called for a safe route for people to use.
He said: “This council should push the government, though both our MPs, to tell them they need to set up a safe route to stop traffickers that make money and bring people illegally to this country..”
He said a safe route could include a camp in France instead of handing money to French government under a new agreement with the UK.
The deal agreed this month will see the UK pay France £62.2million in 2022-2023 in return for a 40 percent increase in the numbers of security forces patrolling its northern beaches.
But Cllr Aram said the arrangement will not work. He said: “I do not leave my house to go to work and leave the door open and pay my neighbour to look after my house. I shut my door to make sure no-one breaks in. Giving (£62million) of taxpayers money to foreign countries to shut our borders is not going to work.”
Prior to the meeting, a gathering was held outside the council offices in Margate in a vigil marking the one year anniversary since some 27 people lost their lives in the Channel while attempting a small boat crossing.
Diphtheria ‘may’ have caused illness in man who died
On November 19 the Home Office confirmed a person who was at the Manston asylum processing centre had died in hospital. Although officials initially said the death was not caused by infectious disease it is now reported that first tests were false negatives, and follow-ups showed diphtheria may have been the cause of the man’s illness.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection that affects the nose and throat, and sometimes the skin. It’s rare in the UK because babies and children have been routinely vaccinated against it since the 1940s but there’s a small risk of catching it if you travel to some parts of the world.
Diphtheria can be a serious illness and sometimes fatal, especially in children, if it’s not treated quickly. It is spread by coughs and sneezes, or through close contact with someone who is infected. You can also get it by sharing items, such as cups, cutlery, clothing or bedding, with an infected person.
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman is investigating the death and the case has been referred to the Kent coroner.
There have previously been confirmed cases of diphtheria, scabies and other infectious illnesses at the centre. The government had been offering diphtheria vaccinations to people at the Manston centre.
Small boat Channel crossings have reportedly resumed again today (November 26). More than 40,000 people have entered the UK via this route this year.