Manston: asylum seekers abandoned at London Victoria station as government seeks to control overcrowding
Witnesses said the asylum seekers were “stressed” and “disturbed”, left stranded at the station with no warm clothing or food.
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It is understood that the group of 11 had been driven from Manston, Kent, to London earlier that day as part of a larger group of 40, but that while some had family members or friends they could contact on arrival for help, the others had nowhere to spend the night.
Witnesses told the Guardian that the asylum seekers had no winter coats and many were wearing flip-flops - with some wrapping themselves in blankets in an attempt to stay warm. Volunteers from Under One Sky homelessness charity, who helped at the scene, ran to a nearby Primark to buy suitable clothes and to a McDonald’s to get the abandoned migrants something to eat.
Daniel Abbas, a volunteer with Under One Sky, said: “They were stressed, disturbed, and completely disorientated. They were also very hungry.” Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “They were simply just turning to anyone and everyone on the street to help. We were almost glad that we were there at the right place at the right time to provide them with the sort of care and love and compassion that we did.”
A British Transport Police spokesman said officers responded to reports of a group of asylum seekers ‘looking for assistance’ at London Victoria at 10.33pm on Tuesday.
The news comes as hundred of asylum seekers have been frantically moved out of the Manston migrant centre over the past couple days as the government fights heavy criticism about intense overcrowding and dire living conditions at the facility. Over the weekend, 4,000 people were being held at a site with a capacity of 1,600.
Today (3 November), climate minister Graham Stuart admitted that Manston is operating illegally. He told Sky News that he was “obviously not” happy that asylum seekers were being detained unlawfully, adding on behalf of his colleagues that “none of us are comfortable with it”. He said: “We want it tackled, we want to get a grip, that’s exactly what the Home Secretary is focused on.”
He sought to blame an “unacceptable surge” in small boat crossings for the problem, adding that the “system is struggling to cope”.
But Tory MP Sir Roger Gale, who visited the centre, alleged to NationalWorld that the situation had been allowed to happen “deliberately” by the Home Office. He said: “This has been allowed to happen because the Home Secretary (Suella Braverman) made a very bad decision. Namely, not booking hotels for migrants to be transferred to despite advice she received five weeks ago.”
But overcrowding is not the only issue. The Prison Officers’ Association, which represents 170 people who are working at Manston as detention custody officers, voiced concerns about unrest amongst asylum seekers. Andy Baxter, assistant general secretary, told Sky News: “The unrest is spreading across the camp. Our members are facing threats from people constantly saying ‘what’s happening to me? Where am I going? When will I be getting moved on?’.
“When our members can’t give them an answer, people start making threats to have sit-down protests, threats to go on hunger strike and people making threats of self-harm.” He also claimed members have concerns for their safety, after a “few incidents” of people making “weapons” from things like wooden cutlery and toothbrushes.”
Meanwhile, members from Action Against Detention and Deportations said they witnessed children screaming "we need your help" from within the confines of Manston, while other people reportedly said "we’re getting sick" and life in the camp was "not good".
During a House of Commons session on Monday (31 October) however, Suella Braverman said she is not to blame for the crisis. She denied claims that she blocked asylum seekers from being transferred to new hotels and ignored advisors who warned her the government was acting outside of the law by detaining people at Manston.
A Home Office spokesperson added: “The Home Secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation. Claims advice was deliberately ignored are completely baseless.”
Instead, Braverman maintained her rhetoric that the government is committed to “stopping the invasion of our southern coast,” prompting criticism from MPs who said she was using inflammatory language. She also subsequently came under fire from the prime minister of Albania, who accused Britain of becoming like a “madhouse” with a culture of “finding scapegoats” during a migration crisis where “failed policies” are to blame.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak admitted during PMQs on Wednesday (2 November) that the migrant crisis was a “serious and escalating problem”, conceding that “not enough” asylum claims are being processed. Sir Roger told NationalWorld that current processing speeds are “so slow it’s ludicrous”, something that has been made worse by the Home Office’s 100,000 backlog in processing asylum applications, with just 4% of asylum claims from 2021 having been processed.
Despite the issues, Sunak insisted the government is getting a grip on the situation and backed his Home Secretary by insisting she has taken “significant steps” to address the issue at Manston.