Suella Braverman’s decisions ‘led to scabies and diphtheria at overcrowded asylum centre’

Sources blame home secretary for conditions that encouraged disease, as charities decry ‘inhumane’ treatment of asylum seekers

Adam Forrest
Saturday 29 October 2022 18:03 BST
Rishi Sunak defends reappointing Suella Braverman as home secretary

Home secretary Suella Braverman’s decisions to block transfers led to overcrowding and outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria at a holding facility for asylum seekers, according to a report.

She is said to have been warned by officials that she risked breaking the law by keeping migrants at a processing centre near Manston airport in Kent for several weeks when it was only intended to hold people for 24 hours.

Multiple government sources told The Times that Ms Braverman had blocked the transfer of thousands of migrants to hotels during her first spell as home secretary under Liz Truss. “She was refusing to allow anyone to leave Manston, even though the numbers were well above its capacity,” one source told the newspaper.

Earlier this week, MPs heard that almost 3,000 people were crowded into the facility at a former RAF base, where cases of diphtheria and scabies have been reported.

One Afghan family with young children has been detained in a tent for a month because of the “chaotic” response to Channel crossings, the home affairs select committee was told.

David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, told the committee he was left “speechless” by what he witnessed during a visit.

There are no cooking facilities, and some asylum seekers are sleeping on mats on the floor because the Home Office has no accommodation unit to move them into while their claims are processed.

On Monday – before Ms Braverman was controversially reappointed home secretary by Rishi Sunak – three hotels were reportedly opened to asylum seekers to ease the overcrowding. The move was said to have been authorised after Grant Shapps, who temporarily replaced Ms Braverman at the Home Office, was told about the conditions at Manston.

The Refugee Council said one boy had contracted scabies, a skin infestation, having stayed at the Manston facility for 19 days in “inhumane” conditions during Ms Braverman’s first stint as home secretary.

The Home Office confirmed a small outbreak of diphtheria, a contagious bacterial infection that can prove fatal if it goes untreated, at the Kent site earlier in October. The department said a “very small number of cases” had occurred, and that medical protocols were followed.

Mark Davies, of the Refugee Council, told The Independent: “What is happening at Manston is inhumane. The government cannot shy away from the facts – there is overcrowding, disease, and the risk of disorder.”

He added: “The answer is to create a fast-track task force to address the backlogs. We urge ministers to remember that behind every case there is a face – people who have fled war, persecution and conflict.”

James Wilson, deputy director at Detention Action, said the camp remained “hugely overcrowded, unhygienic and unsafe” and was on the verge of becoming a “public health disaster”.

He added: “Suella Braverman appears to have directly worsened the problems by blocking transfers out of the camp. She must address the situation urgently, and move people to safe, appropriate accommodation.”

The Home Office said it was providing food, clothing and medical care, but acknowledged that the large number of arrivals on small boats crossing the English Channel had put pressure on the system.

A spokesperson said: “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 more than £5m a day. The use of hotels is a short-term solution and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.”

Part of the processing site for asylum seekers in Manston, Kent

It comes as Mr Sunak was criticised for reappointing Ms Braverman only six days after she was fired by his predecessor Ms Truss over a security breach.

Ms Braverman admitted having committed a “technical infringement” of the ministerial rules by sharing an official government document via her personal email.

Several sources disputed Ms Braverman’s claim to have reported her mistake to the cabinet secretary Simon Case as soon as she realised what she had done. The BBC was told by sources that she was “in denial” about the breach.

Ms Braverman is understood to have sent sensitive documents from her personal email account to Tory MP John Hayes, but accidentally copied in another MP, who informed the party’s chief whip before the details were passed on to Mr Case.

Ms Braverman leaked details about a “growth visa” planned by Ms Truss, according to The Sun.

Labour has called on Mr Sunak to clarify whether Ms Braverman leaked market-sensitive data, since any details regarding a growth visa could affect Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) growth forecasts.

Shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden wrote to the new prime minister asking for assurances that vital information “has not and will not fall into the hands of actors in the UK gilt market”.

He added: “It is astonishing that the home secretary may have leaked information about immigration policy which could have an impact on the OBR forecast and the decisions the government is considering in the run-up to the autumn statement.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Sunak of doing a “grubby deal” with Ms Braverman in exchange for her backing him against rival Penny Mordaunt, saying: “He should sack her – that would be the strong thing to do.”

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