Manston: charity launches legal action against Home Office on behalf of woman held at migrant processing site

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The charity said that Manston migrant processing centre has “failed to adhere to safeguarding measures for children” and that asylum seekers have been “exposed to infectious diseases due to overcrowding and poor sanitation”.

The Home Office is facing legal action over the “egregiously defective conditions” at Manston migrant processing centre.

Lawyers on behalf of human rights charity Detention Action, who are representing a woman being held at the facility, sent an urgent, pre-action letter to Suella Braverman on 1 November. They claim the woman, who is from a non-European country, has been “unlawfully detained by the Home Secretary at the Manston facility in egregiously defective conditions”.

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Announcing the news on Twitter this afternoon (3 November), the charity wrote: “We contend that systemic issues at the Manston facility, including the prolonged detention of children and adults, represent unlawful detention in conditions which breach statutory duties and create serious threats to the safety of children.”

Deputy director James Wilson said the charity has taken this action “out of serious concern for the welfare of thousands of people, including children”. He also confirmed that Detention Action has called upon the Home Secretary to declare that anyone held at Manston for more than 24 hours is “being detained unlawfully”, and urged her to give “organisations qualified to provide support in immigration detention settings” access to the centre.

The government has confirmed it received “initial contact for a judicial review” over Manston, but could not comment on who was behind the challenge for legal reasons. Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said the move was “not unusual” as it concerned a “highly litigious area of policy”.

Detention Action has launched legal action against the government over the conditions at Manston. Credit: Getty ImagesDetention Action has launched legal action against the government over the conditions at Manston. Credit: Getty Images
Detention Action has launched legal action against the government over the conditions at Manston. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Sent by Duncan Lewis solicitors, the letter raises a series of concerns about Manston, which is based near Ramsgate in Kent. These include:

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  • The routine prolongation of detention beyond statutory time limits
  • Failure to adhere to essential safeguarding measures for children
  • Women and children sleeping alongside adult men to whom they are unrelated
  • Inadequate or non-existent access to legal advice for those detained
  • Exposure to infectious diseases due to overcrowding and poor sanitation

The news broke just after the Home Secretary arrived at the migrant processing centre in a Chinook helicopter, an aircraft which Boeing’s website says “is the helicopter of choice for humanitarian disaster-relief operations, in missions such as transportation of relief supplies and mass evacuation of refugees.”

Earlier in the day, Braverman had visited the migrant site in Dover which last week was hit by a petrol bomb attack. She refused to take any media interviews during the trip.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrives by helicopter at the migrant processing facility at Manston Airfield. Credit: Getty ImagesHome Secretary Suella Braverman arrives by helicopter at the migrant processing facility at Manston Airfield. Credit: Getty Images
Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrives by helicopter at the migrant processing facility at Manston Airfield. Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

The MP’s visit comes just after it was revealed in the Guardian that a group of asylum seekers from Manston migrant centre were abandoned with “nowhere to stay” at London Victoria station. Witnesses said 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.

It is understood that they were moved from Manston as part of the government’s attempts to control overcrowding at the site, with provisional figures revealing that over the weekend there were 4,000 migrants being held at the facility, despite its capacity of 1,600.

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This has prompted widespread concern about the conditions at Manston. Members from Action Against Detention and Deportations, who visited the facility, 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".

Meanwhile, the Prison Officers Association is concerned about growing 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.”

Tory MP Sir Roger Gale told NationalWorld that the conditions were a result of decisions made by Braverman, insisting that the facility was working fine in earlier months. 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.”

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NationalWorld also discovered that a report carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) made the Home Office aware of issues with people being held for “unacceptable” periods of time at Manston back in July.

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