Distress at Manston asylum processing centre as Braverman defends immigration stance

Hundreds of migrants are set to be moved out on Monday

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Distressing pictures have surfaced of an overcrowded asylum processing centre in Kent as the crisis surrounding it worsens.

People can be seen reaching out through fences and holding up their babies to show waiting photographers at the facility in Manston.

Hundreds of migrants are set to be moved out on Monday, after overcrowding worsened following a petrol bomb attack on a British immigration border force facility in Dover at the weekend.

About 4,000 people were housed at the disused Manston airfield in Kent on Sunday night — more than double the 1,600 it was originally designed for.

About 700 had to be moved there on Saturday after a man threw petrol bombs attached to fireworks at the Tug Haven asylum site.

The attacker drove up to the centre in a white Seat sports utility vehicle and threw three petrol bombs, one of which did not go off.

Kent Police later confirmed the suspect was found dead at a nearby petrol station. The motive for the attack is not known.

Pictures on Monday showed dozens of migrants boarding buses to an undisclosed location.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman spoke about the overcrowding at Manston as she appeared at House of Commons on Monday. She told MPs that she would visit the site in the coming days, but doubled-down on her hard-line immigration stance when pressed on the situation.

Ms Braverman said she was serious about “stopping the invasion” on the southern coast of England, comments which were jeered by opposition politicians.

“I am utterly serious about ending the scourge of illegal migration and I am determined to do whatever it takes to break the criminal gangs and fix our hopelessly lax asylum system,” she said.

Conditions at the site at Manston in Kent were last week described by Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal as “pretty wretched”.

Numbers have swelled with the new influx of people, with one Afghan family telling Mr Neal they had been there for 32 days.

He told a parliamentary committee that out of 11,000 people who had gone through the centre in the past two months, there had been four cases of diphtheria.

Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, where Manston is located, said the situation at the site, which has also seen outbreaks of MRSA due to overcrowding, was a “breach of humane conditions”.

He called the situation “wholly unacceptable” and has put forward an urgent question in the Commons to be answered by the home secretary or Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.

“There are simply far too many people and this situation should never have been allowed to develop, and I'm not sure that it hasn't almost been developed deliberately,” Sir Roger told Sky News.

The Home Office is struggling to find hotel accommodation, he said. He added that he now understands that this is a policy issue and a decision was made not to book additional hotel space.

“That's like driving a car down a motorway, seeing the motorway clear ahead, then there's a car crash, and then suddenly there's a five-mile tailback.

“The car crash was the decision not to book more hotel space,” he said.

According to reports, migrants could now be set to share hotels with the public under plans to address the crisis.

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the government was taking “twice as many asylum decisions” a year ago.

“We assume [using hotels] is part of their contingency arrangements. But we should be clear that increasing the use of hotels is itself a sign of failure.

“We have been calling on the government to reduce the use of hotels and to clear the backlog. And it has grown. Because they have cut the number of asylum decisions they are taking.

“They were taking twice as many asylum decisions a year, as they are now. Even just five or six years ago. So the number of asylum decisions has dropped.”

She said it is possible for the government to fast track the system, splitting claims of people fleeing from prosecution from those which are unfounded.

Labour is also calling for an investigation into the conduct of Ms Braverman.

She was forced to quit as home secretary under Liz Truss after she emailed a potentially market-sensitive draft written ministerial statement to veteran back bench Tory Sir John Hayes, a fellow right-winger, from a personal email account.

But less than a week later she was back in the role in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's first Cabinet.

Ms Cooper said full details of the breach of the ministerial code which led to Ms Braverman's initial resignation needed to be set out to MPs.

She told the Today programme: “There is a blunt immediate question, which is how many other security breaches have there been? How many other security lapses has she been involved in? And that's the most important question.”

On Monday Ms Braverman wrote to the Home Affairs Select Committee to explain how she sent government information to a back bench MP.

Asked whether Ms Braverman is the right person to handle the crisis at Manston, Sir Roger said: “I'm not seeking to point fingers at the moment but I do believe whoever is responsible, and that is either the previous home secretary or this one, has to be held to account, because a bad decision was taken and it's led to what I would regard as a breach of humane conditions.”

A source close to former home secretary Priti Patel said there was “never any overcrowding [at the Manston migrant centre] when she was there”.

“What would happen was if it got to the point where people were getting worried about conditions we would sign off on more hotels.”

Despite the political difficulties, the cost to the taxpayer and the potential for a media backlash, Ms Patel agreed to hotels because “it was the right thing to do”.

Another source close to the former home secretary said it had been “business as usual” right up until the point she resigned when Ms Truss became prime minister.

A representative for Britain's Home Office, the government department responsible for immigration, crime and policing, said the number of arrivals via small boats was putting the asylum system under “incredible pressure”.

“Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible,” the representative said.

New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's office last week said he had discussed the issue of clandestine migration across the Channel with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The pair have pledged to render English Channel crossings “completely unviable” to stem the steady arrival of migrants to the UK in small boats.

In their first call since Mr Sunak became prime minister, the pair agreed on Friday to “deepening” the partnership between the UK and France.

They are said to be close to concluding a deal that aims to limit the number of migrants arriving by small boats, which will set a minimum number of French police patrolling beaches at any one time.

Nearly 1,000 migrants arrived in Britain in small boats on Saturday alone, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Updated: October 31, 2022, 6:12 PM