Inquiry into Manston asylum centre will leave those involved with 'nowhere to hide'

Conditions branded 'unsanitary and unacceptable' by Independent Monitoring Boards watchdog

Conditions at the Manston site have been criticised heavily. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

An inquiry into an asylum processing centre where conditions were once called “wretched” will leave those involved in its operation with no place to hide, a refugee charity said.

Care4Calais described conditions inside Manston, a former military base in Kent, as "unthinkably bad", with issues including overcrowding, a lack of access to treatment and unsanitary conditions.

The charity was reacting to reports that the Home Office has agreed to demands to hold an independent investigation into Manston, which migrants described as being like a prison.

The facility opened as a processing centre in February 2022 and was meant to host migrants for a maximum of five days while they underwent security and identity checks. But reports soon surfaced that people were being kept there for several weeks in conditions described by those staying there as being like prison.

A letter thrown over the wall at the time claimed there were pregnant women and sick detainees who were not receiving treatment. It also claimed there was a disabled child at the site and added: “He's really bad, they don't even care about him.”

Conditions at the site left the UK’s immigration watchdog “speechless”. The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, described the facility as “pretty wretched”.

At one point the government conceded that there were about 3,500 people at the facility, more than double the maximum capacity of 1,600.

They were kept in tented accommodation with poor sanitation and washing facilities. In 2022 a man who had contracted diphtheria amid a large outbreak at the site died.

An Independent Monitoring Boards report said migrants were “accommodated in marquees which we would describe as at best basic, at worst unsanitary and unacceptable”. Conditions were also described as “dire” by senior MPs.

"The stories that people who were there tell about the sleeping arrangements, lack of food and medical support, are shocking," Steve Smith, chief executive of Care4Calais, told The National.

"It has always been clear that political decisions made by a new home secretary created this situation and the government has spent vast sums of money fighting the release of information that would reveal those political decisions.

"If they concede and allow a statutory inquiry, there will no longer be any hiding place for those who were involved."

The government spent around a year defending a judicial review into the conditions migrants were kept in. A hearing was due to be held later this month.

A Home Office spokesman told The National: "Since 2022 we have overhauled Manston and made significant improvements to key areas of the site including the processing, sleeping, catering and health care.

“Despite record pressure on the asylum system, we have reduced small boat crossings by more than a third and have a clear strategy to process and accommodate migrants arriving in the UK illegally."

Migrants at immigration processing centre in Manston – in pictures

Small boat arrivals

So far more than 3,200 people have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel in small boats.

The number is higher than running totals documented between January 1 and March 6 each year since current records began in 2018, government data indicates, including 3,150 for last year and 2,212 in 2022, which was a record year for Channel crossings.

More than 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister in October 2022, with more than 72,000 recorded since the Rwanda deal was signed six months earlier, the figures indicate.

Home Secretary James Cleverly – who set himself a target of meeting Mr Sunak's key "stop the boats" pledge by the end of this year – recently hosted a meeting in Brussels where Britain and France agreed to lead a new customs partnership in a bid to disrupt the supply chain of boats being used to make Channel crossings.

Updated: March 12, 2024, 1:35 PM