Home Office empties Manston asylum centre after legal challenge

Detainee claimed centre was “overcrowded, unhygienic and unsafe” and Home Office violated rights not be arbitrarily detained
Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/Alamy Stock Photo

By Katherine Hapgood

23 Nov 2022

The Home Office moved asylum seekers out of the Manston processing centre this week after the death of an unlawfully detained asylum seeker and months of criticism from members of parliament, civil servants and human-rights advocacy groups. 

In a statement released yesterday, the PCS union announced that there had been a “rapid emptying of the facility” after it joined legal action alongside the charity Detention Action, and a woman previously held in the facility. The legal action was issued against home secretary Suella Braverman for her “mistreatment of people held at the site.”  

The complaint filed by a woman detained in the short-term holding facility claimed that the centre was “overcrowded, unhygienic and unsafe”; there was “inhumane or degrading treatment” of detainees; actions were taken that were “beyond legal powers of the home secretary”. 

It also alleged that the Home Office had violated people’s rights not be arbitrarily detained, and that the complainant had been held in excess of statutory time limits, amongst other issues. 

Asylum seekers being held at the centre have been moved to alternative accommodation, which is understood to include hotels.

Paul O’Connor, PCS head of bargaining, said: "We’re pleased the home secretary has been forced to respond to our concerns but we shouldn’t have needed to resort to the threat of legal action before they were addressed.  

“The government’s entire approach on asylum is a failure. Our members need the time, space and resources to deliver a functioning system free from the type of crisis management we see all too often.  

“It’s time to design a system based on a rational assessment of need and for the home secretary to drop her increasingly irrational rhetoric on the issue.” 

The first public notion of crises at the Home Office site in Kent was 26 October, when David Neal, independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee. His concerns included cases of diphtheria, poor health and living conditions, families in a state of despair, Neal said left him “speechless”.  

The department said at the weekend that a man who was being held at the centre had been taken to hospital on Friday after becoming unwell, and died on Saturday morning.

A spokesperson said at the time there was "no evidence at this stage" that the person had died from an infectious disease. They said a post-mortem examination will take place.

Following the site's closure, a government spokesperson said: ‘’Staff across the Home Office have worked tirelessly under challenging circumstances to source alternative accommodation as quickly as possible for those who have been processed at Manston.  

“Thanks to their efforts, there are currently no people being accommodated on-site, and improvements continue to be made to the site to ensure it remains well-resourced to process migrants safely and securely. 

‘’The global migration crisis continues to place an unprecedented and unsustainable strain on our asylum system, which is why we remain focused on deterring illegal migration and disrupting the criminal gangs responsible for these dangerous crossings."

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