Migrants and asylum seekers who spent weeks at the ‘inhumane’ Manston processing centre have compared it to a ‘filthy prison’ after catching scabies, having their phones and cigarettes ‘confiscated’ and being forced to sleep on the floor.
The former RAF base in Kent, which re-opened as an immigration centre in January, was initially designed to hold up to 1,600 people for no more than 48 hours, but has instead become a temporary home to almost 4,000 migrants, leading to outbreaks of diphtheria, scabies, MRSA and violence.
Following public outcry and reports of overcrowding and disease, dozens of coaches with heavily tinted windows yesterday began to take migrants from the centre to hotels or hostels around Britain – with many inside pictured waving and giving a thumbs up, clearly relieved at leaving for pastures new.
But Home Secretary Suella Braverman is under fire from local council leaders today as they accused her of having ‘complete disregard’ for their constituents after putting the asylum seekers in hotels and hostels without consultation.
It comes as ministers warn that up to 50,000 migrants could cross the English Channel on small boats this year alone in what would be a new annual record, as the Government weighs up ‘radical’ plans to tackle the crisis, including fast-tracking the deportation of Albanian migrants.
Speaking today, Ahmed – not his real name – said he had spent 24 days at Manston as he compared it to a ‘prison camp.’
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I slept on the floor, a lot of people were there. In one big tent there were maybe 130 people. It was cold.
‘We can’t go to the toilet, we can’t take a shower, take a bath, we don’t have any clothes, we are not animals!’
He added: ‘For the 24 days I’m in there, I can’t call to my family to say to them I’m dead, I’m living – they don’t know anything about me… all people in there, they have a family. They should know what is happening to us.’
Ahmed had fled Iran to avoid persecution, saying he had been living in fear for his life.
Another migrant branded Manston a ‘filthy prison’ after he ‘caught scabies’ during his week-long stay there.
Adil Amir Al Shamiri, 42, told the i that he was forced to sleep on the ground in a room packed with 140 people, and claimed personal belongings were confiscated upon arrival, including clothes, shoes, phones and cigarettes.
He said: ‘It was like a prison. The place is crowded. The filth fills the floor. There is no bed to sleep.
Migrants and asylum seekers who spent weeks at the ‘inhumane’ Manston processing centre have compared it to a ‘filthy prison’ after catching scabies, having their phones and cigarettes ‘confiscated’ and being forced to sleep on the floor (Pictured: People thought to be migrants inside the Manston immigration short-term holding facility located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent)
Migrants at the controversial Manston camp (pictured) in Kent have been sleeping on the floor of marquees for a month, are not allowed to use toilets with the doors closed and have not had a GP stationed on site until this week, it was claimed
Speaking today, Ahmed (not pictured here) – not his real name – said he had spent 24 days at Manston as he compared it to a ‘prison camp.’ He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I slept on the floor, a lot of people were there. In one big tent there were maybe 130 people. It was cold.’
Migrants wave through a coach window on Wednesday as they are transported from Manston to be placed in hotels or other accommodation
Workers clock in for their shifts at the Manston migrant camp in Kent on Wednesday morning
Deportation of Albanian migrants could be ‘fast tracked’ to help tackle migrant crisis
New ‘radical’ plans to combat the migrant crisis include fast-tracking deportations of Albanian migrants and reforms to the Modern Slavery Act, it was reported last night.
Mr Jenrick told the Daily Telegraph that Albanians were ‘abusing’ the act and delaying deportation attempts.
He said: ‘We will now need to look at some more radical options to ensure that our laws are appropriate, that economic migrants are returned swiftly and that we deter people from coming to the UK because the UK cannot continue to be a magnet for economic migrants.’
Home Office figures, obtained by the Telegraph, show the number of Albanian migrants claiming to be victims of modern slavery is set to double this year to 5,000.
Other proposals could also see Albanians deported before they can appeal against rejected asylum claims.
Mr Jenrick reportedly plans to visit that country’s capital Tirana in the next fortnight to discuss a deal agreed last year to return migrants.
According to The Times, asylum claims made by Albanians would be assessed separately and ‘within days’.
Other proposed measures include putting them into immigration bail or tagging them to prevent them from absconding.
‘We had 140 people sleeping between each other’s legs. Filth fills the place and infectious diseases, and I am one of those infected now with scabies. It was indescribable. It was like a real detention facility.’
Branding the conditions ‘tragic’, he said that children ‘don’t get sleeping covers’ or ‘diapers’ while there are ‘hundreds of people with scabies’.
Mr Al Shamiri said the t-shirt and pyjamas he was given made him itch while he was ‘sleeping on the earth or on a stool’. He said while there was a doctor, they struggled to provide ‘full healthcare’ due to the large number of people.
He added: ‘In the camp, everything is taken from us – our clothes, shoes, cigarettes. And mobile devices that contain a camera are forbidden to be taken.’
Mr Al Shamiri said people’s belongings were returned to them once they left the centre.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible.
‘The number of people arriving in the UK via small boats has reached record levels, which has put our asylum system under incredible pressure and costs the British taxpayer millions of pounds a day.
‘We provide for all the basic needs of people who will have arrived tired, cold, in wet clothing and who may not have eaten during their journey. The Home Office provides 24/7 health facilities at Manston as well as having robust contingency plans to deal with health issues such as communicable diseases.’
Council leaders in Kent are to write to under-fire Home Secretary Ms Braverman saying she has shown ‘complete disregard’ for the county after putting up asylum seekers in hotels without consulting locals.
Ashford Borough Council has hit out after the government booked up a hotel in the town for asylum seekers arriving across the Channel, saying their views have been ignored.
Council leader Gerry Clarkson, a Conservative, said the issue is a national one and should be treated as such.
He said: ‘We have no control over this decision at all and are extremely angry at the Home Office on how they have handled this situation.
‘They have ignored not only our views, but those of Kent County Council, Kent Police and local health services.
‘They have shown a complete disregard for us and the local community, and this situation cannot continue.
‘All Kent and Medway local authority leaders are writing jointly to the Secretary of State for the Home Office to ask her to stop using the county as an easy fix for what is a national, strategic issue.’
The Home Office said it will continue to use hotels to house new arrivals.
A spokesperson added: ‘The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.
‘The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6million a day.
‘The use of hotels is a short-term solution and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.’
It comes as Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that both France and the UK need to ‘do more’ to tackle cross-Channel illegal migration.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: ‘I think both countries, Britain and France, could do more. What we need to do is work with the French, they do a lot already.
‘We provide resources to help them and, of course, people will know our border controls in France are actually physically located in France, and we’ve always worked in close partnership with French authorities.
‘Do we think they could do more? Yes. We could do more as well. It’s about improving that partnership.’
Mr Harper was also pressed on Suella Braverman’s use of the word ‘invasion’ in the House of Commons this week to describe the situation at the south coast.
The Transport Secretary told Sky News: ‘The Home Secretary was trying to convey to the House of Commons that she understood the scale of the challenges so that people at home, who are concerned about this issue, know that it’s an important priority for her and for the Home Office to deal with this problem.’
It comes as one leader of a council has taken High Court action against the Home Office to prevent it hosting asylum seekers in specific hotels, as she accused the department of showing a ‘total lack of consultation and engagement’ with local authorities.
Sheila Oxtoby, chief executive of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘First of all, I’d like to say that we have a long history of welcoming refugees and economic migrants to our town and to our borough.
A coach arrives at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility
A coach full of migrants smiled and waved as they left the Manston camp in Kent on Tuesday
Migrants smile and wave as they are taken out of Manston to hotels and hostels around Britain
A coach full of migrants smiled and waved as they left the Manston camp in Kent
People thought to be migrants at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility
People thought to be migrants queue for the showers inside the Manston immigration short-term holding facility located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent
‘We have always, right from the beginning, offered to work with the Home Office to find the most suitable accommodation and the best solution for both the asylum seekers and the existing community – but that has largely fallen on deaf ears and our offer has not been taken up.
‘I think you used the word ‘imposed’ and that’s how we feel that two properties running as successful hotels in a prime tourism area have been selected to accommodate asylum seekers.
‘That’s what we object to – the method and process upon how they have been selected and the total lack of consultation and engagement with us as the local council.’
Ms Oxtoby added there were limits to the number of refugees that her council would take and urged the Government to recognise immigration is a ‘national issue’.
Yesterday’s exodus of the migrants came as the union representing Border Force workers at Manston said that the Home Office intended to move 400 people out of the site on Tuesday followed by a similar number over the proceeding days.
Lucy Moreton of the Union for Borders, Immigration and Customs (ISU) said: ‘There are now coaches on site with the intention of moving some migrants on to more suitable accommodation. I don’t know yet how many will go today but yesterday (Monday) we were told the aim was to move 400.’
Ms Moreton also called on the Home Office to increase support for staff working at Manston.
She added: ‘Sadly, nothing is being done to relieve the pressure on staff. We have asked the Home Office for increased support, for wellbeing and mental health services and for assurances to address staff concerns around the legality of instructions they are being given, the sustainability for the short and medium term and any ongoing threat to staff. The Home Office have not replied.’
It comes as Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick warned that as many as 50,000 migrants could cross the Channel this year – which would be not only nearly double the total number of people who made the perilous crossing last year, but a new annual record.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman earlier told the Cabinet that the Home Office had reopened its Dover immigration centre following a fire-bomb attack.
People, thought to be migrants, queue for the shower facilities at Manston, a former RAF base which is being used as a short-term holding facility
Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, carried out an unannounced visit in July and found evidence of ‘exhausted’ migrants sleeping on floors, and ‘impatient staff’. Pictured: People, believed to be migrants, inside the Manston immigration centre
Staff at the immigration centre near Ramsgate in Kent have also witnessed ‘incredibly tense’ scenes in the last 24 hours – with some telling bosses they are terrified for their safety and local reporting regular escapes
The site has tripled in size since May, when seven tents were being used to house asylum seekers compared to 21 yesterday as numbers have swelled. Pictured: Tents at the immigration site at Manston
Some 4,000 people are now packed into a space designed for just 1,600 on the former RAF base in Kent and severe overcrowding has led to outbreaks of violence and diphtheria. Pictured: Detainees gesture through a fence at an immigration processing centre in Manston
The situation became even more dire yesterday with the arrival of another 700, bused from a site in Dover attacked with petrol bombs on Sunday. Pictured: A view of people thought to be migrants at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility
The Western Jet Foil centre, used to process asylum seekers after their arrival in the UK, was closed following the attack on Sunday. Two people inside the migrant centre reported minor injuries. The 66-year-old man suspected of carrying out the attack was later found dead at a nearby petrol station.
The closure has led to a large build up of migrants at its Manston site in Kent, which has been labelled ‘inhuman’ amid reports of severe overcrowding and outbreaks of violence and diphtheria.
A ‘large number’ of migrants will now be taken from the site and moved to over locations in a bid to ‘relieve pressure on Manston’, Ms Braverman is said to have told the Cabinet.
During a press briefing Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘(At Cabinet) The Home Secretary provided a further update on the situation in Manston.
‘She said the Western Jet Foil centre (in Dover) had reopened and that large numbers of people were being taken from Manston to other accommodation to help relieve pressure.
‘She said unprecedented numbers of crossings continue to cause challenges and a whole-government approach would be needed to tackle it.’
It comes as it was claimed Tuesday that migrants at the controversial Manston camp in Kent have been sleeping on the floor of marquees for a month, are not allowed to use toilets with the doors closed and have not had a GP stationed on site until this week.
Staff at the immigration centre near Ramsgate in Kent have also witnessed ‘incredibly tense’ scenes in the last 24 hours – with some telling bosses they are terrified for their safety and locals reporting regular escapes.
The site has tripled in size since May, when seven tents were being used to house asylum seekers compared to 21 yesterday as numbers have swelled.
Some 4,000 people are now packed into a space designed for just 1,600 on the former RAF base in Kent and severe overcrowding has led to outbreaks of violence and diphtheria.
And the situation became even more dire yesterday with the arrival of another 700, bused from a site in Dover attacked with petrol bombs on Sunday.
David Neal, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, said he was left ‘speechless’ by what he say. He said: ‘I spoke to an Afghan family who had been in a marquee for 32 days. So that’s in a marquee . . . with a kit mat on the floor, with blankets, for 32 days.’
He added: ‘I was very concerned about Manston when I visited on Monday. As concerned, perhaps, as I’ve ever been about anything over the recent years.
‘It’s a really dangerous situation. It’s failing to address vulnerability . . . There are risks there in terms of fire, in terms of disorder, in terms of medical and infection.’
The POA union, which represents staff at the Manston centre, said there were eight confirmed cases of diptheria at the site.
Afghan migrant, Abed, told The Times that he slept on the floor of a marquee for 15 days, and dexcribed an outbreak of scabies.
He said: ‘Everybody was sleeping near with each other. Some people were sleeping in chairs. Also they are sharing the blankets with people.
‘The people [were] putting the blankets on the floor and then people are sleeping on it. Some people were sleeping on the floor side by side’. The Times reported that until Monday, a GP was not stationed at the centre.
Staff on the ground in Manston have warned that migrants are making weapons out of tent parts, loo roll holders, and broken bits from the wired fence. Others claimed that combs have been crafted into blades.
Lucy Moreton, spokesperson for the Union for Borders, Immigration & Customs, said it is a ‘really frightening’ time for staff working with migrants.
Asked about whether it is a frightening time after incendiary devices were thrown at a Border Force migrant centre in Dover on Sunday, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Absolutely.
‘The members are reporting real concerns not only that there could be a copycat attack, or that may have been part of a broader programme, although that appears unlikely, but certainly it could be copied.
The site has tripled in size since May, when seven tents were being used to house asylum seekers compared to 21 yesterday as numbers have swelled
‘There’s been a lot of drones flying over the site in the last 24 hours. There’s a lot of tensions on the site. The migrants are very keen to be moving, to be moved on, to get their freedom back.
‘Staff face, on a daily basis, sitdown protests, being chanted at, being shouted out. Constant searches going on, improvised weapons are always being found.
‘It’s a really frightening time for the staff and no prison in the UK has over 4,000 people uncontained face to face with those who are responsible for controlling them. That’s an utterly unsustainable position.’
One local business owner said: ‘They [detainees] have been getting out. We had one who jumped over the fence and security jumped after.’ He added: ‘All we hear is chanting every night now.’
Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, carried out an unannounced visit in July and found evidence of ‘exhausted’ migrants sleeping on floors, and ‘impatient staff’.
Yesterday he said he was planning a ‘swift return’ after ‘a number of credible sources’ suggested the situation at the centre had become much worse.
He said: ‘What’s happening at Manston when I visited was people were sleeping on the floors, on the rubber mats down on the floors and then very thin blankets or mattresses. Lots and lots of people in a room, all squished in together, very uncomfortable.
‘The room for families has lots and lots of different families all sharing the same room, very young children, older children. For a few hours, that would be acceptable, but where people are spending long periods of time there, it just isn’t.
‘I would be horrified if I went into a prison where prisoners didn’t have mattresses, where prisoners didn’t have flushing lavatories, where prisoners didn’t have telephones that they can stay in touch with family and friends.
‘Those are three things that we see at Manston – similarly if they couldn’t get out into the fresh air. As I said before, the Home Office needs to get a grip’.
Staff on the ground in Manston have warned that migrants are making weapons out of tent parts, loo roll holders, and broken bits from the wired fence. Others claimed that combs have been crafted into blades. Pictured: The facility at Manston Airfield
Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, carried out an unannounced visit in July and found evidence of ‘exhausted’ migrants sleeping on floors, and ‘impatient staff’. Pictured: Clothes are hung out to dry at Manston immigration facility in Kent
His comments came as he published the findings of an inspection, carried out at the facility in July, which warned serious challenges remain for migrants crossing the Channel and arriving in Kent.
Manston, at a disused airfield near Ramsgate, is supposed to be a short-term holding facility where immigration documents are issued and some migrants begin the asylum screening process. They are only meant to stay for a maximum of 24 hours.
While there is food, water, showers and toilets, the prisons watchdog said there are no beds or access to fresh air or exercise.
When migrants initially arrive in Kent after crossing the Channel from Calais, they are taken to sites at Western Jet Foil in Dover and Lydd Airport in Romney Marsh for health checks. The Lydd Airport site was unoccupied at the time of the inspection.
In the watchdog’s findings, published on Tuesday, inspectors highlighted ‘failings’ in procedures at Manston which ‘undermine the resilience of the centre for dealing with increasing volumes of detainees’.
But they also found the accommodation was suitable for short-term detention and noted efforts by staff to ‘create a calm and even welcoming atmosphere’.
Manston was described as having a ‘good amount’ of accommodation available but, at the time of the inspection, ‘much of it was out of use because there were not enough staff’.
Further ‘signs of strain’ included ‘exhausted detainees’ sleeping on the floor, including some who had been waiting more than 30 hours to be processed.
Last week, David Neal, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, said during a visit to Manston he met families who had been at the facility for over a month.
The prisons watchdog also found:
- Victims of trafficking, people with disabilities and severe mental health problems and other vulnerable detainees were ‘not always assessed or recorded appropriately’, with some not identified as ‘adults at risk’;
- The inspection raised concerns over the welfare and dignity of detainees. Some were not allowed to use mobile phones to let their families know they were safe and, in parts of the site, others were ‘inexplicably’ not allowed to close toilet doors fully;
- Translation services were not always used to make sure detainees understood what was happening;
Mr Taylor said the inspection revealed a number of ‘risks’ linked to the facilities and that since then, information from ‘a number of credible sources’, including other watchdogs, suggested the current situation has ‘significantly deteriorated’.
As a result, he is planning a ‘swift return’ to Manston for another inspection when he will ‘expect to see substantial improvements’.
‘In the meantime, the Home Office and its contractors need to get a grip and urgently act on the findings of this report to make sure all detainees are held in safe, decent and humane conditions,’ he said.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We welcome the report’s finding that there have been considerable improvements to the infrastructure and processes in place to accommodate record numbers of people arriving in the UK illegally via small boats.
‘As a result of these numbers, our asylum system has been put under incredible strain, but we recognise there is more to do to provide alternative accommodation for people arriving in the UK. We continue to work hard to resolve the current pressures at Manston as an urgent priority.
‘Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely, and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible.’
It comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman is facing a backlash over her ‘inflammatory’ warning that Channel migrants are ‘invading’ Britain.
Manston was described as having a ‘good amount’ of accommodation available but, at the time of the inspection, ‘much of it was out of use because there were not enough staff’. Pictured: Families sit inside a migrant holding facility at Manston Airfield
A view of bags containing items relating to people thought to be migrants at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent
The Home Secretary has come under fire from Tories and opposition parties over the stark language in the Commons yesterday.
Defending her own handling of the crisis amid reports of overcrowding and outbreaks of disease at the Manston processing facility, Ms Braverman said the UK asylum system is ‘broken’ and illegal migration is ‘out of control’.
She suggested only the Tories were ‘serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast’.
However, immigration minister Robert Jenrick appeared to distance himself from the remarks in a round of interviews this morning.
‘In a job like mine, you have to choose your words very carefully. And I would never demonise people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life. I understand and appreciate our obligation to refugees,’ he told Sky News.
‘The scale of the challenge we’re facing is very, very significant.
‘Fifty thousand people, and the number could well be significantly higher over the course of this year, is a major challenge for this country.
‘It is leading to the infrastructure that we have in terms of reception centres, like Manston, in terms of hotel accommodation, and asylum and social housing, essentially being overwhelmed.
‘Invasion is a way of describing the sheer scale of the challenge.
‘That’s what Suella Braverman was trying to express. She was also speaking, I think, and this is an important point, for those people who live on the south coast, who day in, day out are seeing migrant boats landing on their beaches.’
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said Tuesday that he shares with Ms Braverman the view that the asylum system is ‘broken’.
When asked if he had any hope that they will be able to grip the issue, Mr Gale said: ‘Are we going to get to grips with this?
‘Well, I hope that the Prime Minister’s approach to President Macron will yield results. If it does, that’s a very good thing. That is the right approach and the right direction of travel. The Home Secretary’s approach is the wrong direction of travel, I believe.’
Meanwhile, Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said she imagines policymakers in France and Germany looking at the UK immigration numbers and ‘wondering what the fuss is about’.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Ultimately this is about… it’s a combination of the number of people coming in and the resources that we have for processing.
‘And the UK experienced a period for most of the 2010s where there were actually very low numbers of asylum claims by historical standards.’
She said as the numbers have increased, not only has capacity for decision-making not increased but there are fewer asylum claim decisions being made over the last year or so than before the pandemic.
Ms Sumption said this is one reason that the UK is struggling with a significant backlog of people who are still waiting for a decision on their claim.
‘Typically the things that people who have come to claim asylum have cited are family members, so having family members in the UK that they’re coming to join.
‘In some cases it’s the English language, so maybe they only speak English and so they feel that they’re not able to build a life in another country.
‘And more generally there’s a perception that the UK is a tolerant and safe place where they will be able to build a life,’ she said.