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01 November 2022 – United Kingdom

SOAS Detainee Support, Twitter Thread, 31 October 2022,
SOAS Detainee Support, Twitter Thread, 31 October 2022,

A short-term holding facility for newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers has been denounced for “catastrophic overcrowding” and “grotesque treatment,” with the country’s Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reporting that he was left “speechless” by the conditions he observed inside. Thousands are currently detained in Manston Processing Centre where rights groups argue a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding.

The highly securitised centre – on a former military base in Kent and made up of large marquees – was opened in February this year as a non-residential short-term holding facility (STHF) to process the growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers reaching the UK by boat. Unlike residential STHFs, which can detain non-nationals for up to 7 days, non-residential STHFs such as Manston may legally only detain individuals for 24 hours. Despite a capacity of 1,600, today 4,000 are reported to be crammed inside Manston–more than any UK prison population—and the majority for well beyond the 24 hour time limit. SOAS Detainee Support, which used a megaphone to communicate with detainees inside, heard of individuals being detained in the centre for 40 days.

Conditions inside the marquees are reported to be squalid and dangerous. Even in September, the country’s Chief Inspector of Prisons found “exhausted detainees sleeping on the floor” due to a lack of beds, and detainees prevented from using toilets in private or using their mobile phones. During a visit last week, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reported speaking to an Afghan family with young children who had been forced to sleep on mats on the floor for 32 days. (The fact that children are being detained here goes against key international norms, which hold that children, including families, should never be detained for reasons related to their migration status.)

The Home Office has also confirmed that cases of diphtheria have been found amongst detainees, while cases of scabies have similarly been reported. Pictures taken by SOAS Detainee Support on 31 October, meanwhile, show huge piles of confiscated belongings; a small, caged area where they witnessed a father walking with his daughter; and excessive levels of security.

Although the centre is already grossly overcrowded, UK authorities continue to transport newly arrived migrants and refugees to the facility—as well as to transfer them in from other sites. Following a recent hate crime against another procesing centre (a firebomb attack on the Western Jet Foil centre in Dover, which injured two people), 700 people were bussed to Manston.

At the same time as these arrivals continued, authorities have failed to transfer detainees out into appropriate asylum accommodation, creating a huge backlog at the centre. As the Chief Inspector of Borders and Prisons said, “The Home Office and contractors need to get a grip, they need to speed up the processing of migrants, they need to make suitable provisions so people can be moved off site as quickly as possible and housed in humane and decent conditions.”

Some—including Manston’s local Conservative MP—have claimed that the overcrowding is a deliberate “policy decision” by Home Secretary Suella Braverman. According to sources, Braverman refused to sign off on measures that would have relieved the situation at Manston, such as approving hotel accommodation. However, speaking to MPs in the Commons on Monday, Braverman denied that she had vetoed advice to procure additional accommodation. Instead, she used the controversy to ramp up anti-migrant discourse, claiming that “the system is broken, illegal migration is out of control” and that the country is facing an “invasion on our Southern coast.” Coming just one day after the firebombing of the Western Jet Foil centre, Braverman’s inflammatory rhetoric was immediately condemned, including by her Immigration Minister who said: “In a job like mine, you have to choose your words very carefully. I would never demonise people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life.”

Home Office statistics reveal that 38,000 people have arrived in the UK via the Channel route so far this year. 12,000 of these arrivals are Albanians–a huge increase on the 50 Albanians reported to arrive in 2020–prompting the government to consider a fast-track process to ensure their cases are heard quickly and removals are immediate if applications are unsuccessful. On top of this, of all the asylum applications made in 2021, only four percent of claims have been processed—creating a huge backlog within the processing system. According to the UK Parliament Home Affairs Committee, this backlog has also been worsened due to “antiquated IT systems, high staff turnover, and too few staff.”