Manston migrant centre: where is refugee processing site? Braverman slammed for overcrowding and conditions

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Tory MP Sir Roger Gale told NationalWorld that the situation at the migrant and refugee centre in Manston, Kent is “wholly lamentable” and slammed the “ludicrously slow” processing of asylum seekers.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is facing mounting pressure to deal with the “wholly lamentable” overcrowding at the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent, England.

The Manston migrant site is only designed to hold 1,000 people at one time but there are currently 4,000 migrants there. Hundreds more were moved to the facility on Sunday (30 October), following a petrol bomb attack at the Border Force migrant centre in Dover.

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Conservative Party backbencher Sir Roger Gale, who is the MP for the area, visited Manston a few days ago and told Sky News that the situation is a “breach of humane conditions”.

He also alleged that the overcrowding situation was allowed to happen “deliberately” by the Home Office, telling NationalWorld: “This has been allowed to happen because the Home Secretary made a very bad decision. Namely, not booking hotels for migrants to be transferred to despite advice she received five weeks ago.” He insisted the facility was “working fine” before.

The Prison Officers’ Association, which represents 170 people who are working at Manston as detention custody officers, has also spoken out about the conditions at the centre. 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.

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A view of people thought to be migrants at the Manston migrant facility. Credit: PAA view of people thought to be migrants at the Manston migrant facility. Credit: PA
A view of people thought to be migrants at the Manston migrant facility. Credit: PA | PA

It comes after it emerged in The Sunday Times that Braverman, who is also currently under fire for security breaches, blocked asylum seekers from being transferred to new hotels - something which would have helped prevent overcrowding. It has also been claimed that she ignored advisors who warned her that the government was acting outside of the law by detaining people at Manston.

Braverman denied these claims during a combative session at the House of Commons on Monday (31 October), insisting she was not to blame for the crisis. She instead 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.

Why is there overcrowding at Manston?

Manston migrant centre was initially opened in January 2022 to be used as a short-term holding facility where migrants could stay for 24 hours while Border Force staff processed them, before they were moved to temporary accommodation. The maximum capacity for the facility was 1,500.

But the processing site has become increasingly overwhelmed and overcrowded in the past few months due to the high number of Channel crossings this year. This has led to dire and “unacceptable” living conditions, with a series of outbreaks of diseases such as diphtheria and MRSA reported.

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Action Against Detention and Deportations said members 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".

1,900 migrants made the perilous journey across the Channel over the past weekend (29 - 30 October), taking the total so far this year up to 40,000 according to provisional government figures. This marks a dramatic increase on the 28,500 who made the trip throughout the entirety of 2021.

The situation became particularly severe after a man attacked another migrant centre in Dover with petrol bombs on Sunday (30 October), forcing hundreds to be transferred to Manston. The man later took his own life.

A view of the Manston migrant centre located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. Credit: PAA view of the Manston migrant centre located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. Credit: PA
A view of the Manston migrant centre located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. Credit: PA | PA

But while some of these circumstances were outside of government control, many have suggested the Home Office has allowed the situation to get to this point - or at least missed opportunities to rectify some of the problems.

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Critics have said Braverman and her predecessor Patel failed to book hotel spaces for migrants to move to after processing, a failure which Sir Roger told NationalWorld was “wholly lamentable”. He argued that “whoever is responsible, either the previous Home Secretary (Priti Patel) or this one, has to be held to account.”

Braverman has also been accused of failing to act on legal advice which stated that the length of time people are being detained at Manston is unlawful, according to the Sunday Times. Migrants are only supposed to stay at the processing site for 24 hours, and 48 at the very most. But reports suggest migrants - including children - have been there for weeks. Commenting on current processing speeds, Sir Roger Gale told NationalWorld they are “so slow it’s ludicrous.”

A Home Office spokesperson said in response to the allegations against Braverman: “The Home Secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation. Claims advice was deliberately ignored are completely baseless.” Braverman maintained this stance when she was questioned in Parliament on Monday (31 October).

Meanwhile, a source close to Patel told PA Media: “There was never any overcrowding when she was [Home Secretary]. What would happen was if it got to the point where people were getting worried about conditions we would sign off on more hotels.”

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What can be done to help the situation?

Several refugee charities have written to the Home Secretary demanding the government create more safe routes to the UK to stop the dangerous small boat crossings. Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said the problems were evidence of the government failing to prepare.

Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, said the main priority should be “speeding up the processing of migrants.” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They need to make suitable provisions so people can be moved off site as quickly as possible and housed in humane and decent conditions. The facilities are not set up for people to be staying. It’s not a residential facility. It’s a short-term holding facility which is supposed to process people through.”

The Home Office is currently grappling with a 100,000 backlog in processing asylum applications, with just 4% of asylum claims from 2021 having been processed.

Sir Roger Gale told NationalWorld the current processing of migrants as “so slow it’s ludicrous.” Credit: Getty ImagesSir Roger Gale told NationalWorld the current processing of migrants as “so slow it’s ludicrous.” Credit: Getty Images
Sir Roger Gale told NationalWorld the current processing of migrants as “so slow it’s ludicrous.” Credit: Getty Images | Getty Images

Labour said Braverman needed to take urgent action, with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper blaming a "failure to make decisions" within the government for the current crisis. She claimed this had left people waiting for lengthy periods in supposedly temporary accommodation.

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Tory MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke agreed that an “entirely fresh approach” was necessary to tackle the “out of control” situation, telling TalkTV: “What’s been happening is simply not working.”

Robert Jenrick, immigration minister, visited Manston on Sunday (30 October) after a watchdog, chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal, told MPs he was left “speechless” by the problems at the site. Writing on Twitter, Jenrick said migrants continue to be processed “securely” in “challenging conditions”, adding: “I was hugely impressed by the staff I met, managing this intolerable situation.”

The Home Secretary has said she will be visiting the facility “shortly” and will continue to “personally” oversee efforts to resolve the problems there.

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