What is the Manston asylum centre?

Kent facility opened in January intended for short-term detention and processing of applicants but struggled with overcrowding after high number of Channel crossings

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 30 November 2022 16:01 GMT
Suella Braverman says she 'foresaw' concerns at Manston asylum centre

Home secretary Suella Braverman remains under pressure over the crisis-ridden Manston migrant processing facility near Thanet in Kent, which had been intended to be Britain’s main centre for housing cross-Channel asylum-seekers before it became overcrowded and overwhelmed.

A man died in hospital on 19 November after spending time at the centre and the Home Office has since been accused of ignoring warnings about the prospect of a diptheria outbreak erupting, having been alerted to the danger by the UK Health Security Agency.

Manston provoked a huge public outcry in late October when it emerged the facility was suffering from “catastrophic overcrowding” and was occupied by an estimated 4,000 people, despite having been designed for just 1,600.

Ms Braverman was forced to consider plans to move migrants to hotels, holiday camps and other resorts – alongside members of the public, rather than block-booking entire premises on behalf of applicants – before immigration minister Robert Jenrick announced on 7 November that the number detained at Manston had been successfully brought back down to capacity.

The site was finally cleared on 22 November.

The facility, opened in February on a defunct airfield formerly used as a Defence Fire Training and Development Centre, was supposed to be a short-term holding facility where migrants could be hosted for 24 hours and processed by Border Force staff before being moved on to temporary accommodation.

However, Manston became overwhelmed in the summer and autumn months due to the high number of Channel crossings seen this year, meaning dire living conditions were allowed to prevail and outbreaks of diseases including both diphtheria and MSRA were reported.

A further 1,900 migrants made the perilous journey across the English Channel over the final weekend of October, taking the total so far this year to 40,000.

That intensified a situation that as then made worse when a man attacked another detention centre in Dover with petrol bombs. He later took his own life, forcing the transfer of a further 700 migrants from that facility to Manston.

The total number of Channel crossings in the year to late October marked a dramatic increase on the 28,500 who made the trip in 2021.

Ms Braverman was accused of failing to act on legal advice that the length of time people were being detained at Manston was unlawful, according to The Sunday Times.

“The home secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation. Claims advice was deliberately ignored are completely baseless,” a spokesperson for her department insisted in response to that story.

“It is right we look at all available options so decisions can be made based on the latest operational and legal advice.

“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.”

Mr Jenrick duly visited Manston days after David Neal, chief inspector of borders and immigration, said he was left “speechless” by the safety problems he observed there.

Mr Neal warned the Commons Home Affairs Committee of inadequate staffing, refugee families living in tents in “pretty wretched conditions” for extended periods and the prospect of fights erupting.

“It’s a really dangerous situation,” he said. “It’s failing to address vulnerability… There are risks there in terms of fire, in terms of disorder, in terms of medical and infection.”

Mr Neal also took the opportunity to denounce a “creeping lack of ambition” he believed was afflicting the Home Office and impairing its resolve to act.

Mr Jenrick’s cabinet colleague, Michael Gove likewise told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the situation at Manston was “deeply concerning” and “not what it should be”.

Ratcheting up the political tension further was Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, whose North Thanet constituency includes Manston, who suggested on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the crisis had “almost been developed deliberately”.

Sir Roger called for fresh talks with France, saying: “That is the grown-up way to solve this problem. We’re not going to do it by knee-jerk dog whistle politics.”

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke also called for an “entirely fresh approach” to tackle the problem during an interview with TalkTV, adding: “What’s been happening is simply not working.”

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