Inside 'wretched' Manston, where migrants 'wield makeshift weapons' and scabies runs rife

Manston - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Manston - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Migrants detained in overcrowded detention centres have complained of scabies and diphtheria in what has been described by a senior Tory MP as “a breach of humane conditions”.

Undercover footage taken by an asylum seeker who spent 15 days at the Manston migrant processing site, documents the “wretched” conditions he endured while sleeping in a tent with 120 people. The asylum seeker said he saw people “itching” and “scratching” themselves.

“I’m seeing lots of people that have problems, ill problems, scratching problems. I’ve seen more than three people that have the itching problem,” he told The News Movement website.

Despite their worrying signs, they were still kept together in the tents, where he also described people sleeping in chairs and sharing blankets to sleep with on the floor.

He said: “I want to inform all people, all the politicians, please don’t put people in one tent because lots of people when they come, everybody has [illness], everyone has problems when they [are] coming together, the problem will spread.”

The centre, in Kent, is meant to hold migrants for up to 48 hours before they are transferred. However, David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, has previously raised concerns about the conditions. He said he spoke to an Afghan family “who had been in a marquee for 32 days. So that's in a marquee... with kit mats on the floor, with blankets, for 32 days”.

Sir Roger Gale, the MP for North Thanet, has blamed the Home Office for failing to book hotels, contributing to the overcrowding at the Manston migrant processing site.

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Asked whether Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is the right person to handle the situation, 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."

However, a source close to Priti Patel said: "There was never any overcrowding 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 Liz Truss became prime minister.

Earlier this month, ISU, the Border Force Union, sent a distressing letter to Mrs Braverman in which it detailed appalling conditions. It spoke of migrants having “fashioned makeshift weapons” and a genuine fear of  “mass disorder at Manston”.

Manston - REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Manston - REUTERS/Hannah McKay

“Our members working at Manston describe the current situation as a powder keg,” the union wrote. “The site is excessively crowded, conditions growing less sanitary and more chaotic by the day. Detainees are now being held at Manston routinely for upwards of a fortnight. Lack of capacity in the accommodation and detention estates means migrants cannot be moved onward quickly. Enormous daily arrivals volumes are not offset by migrants leaving the site and so Manston becomes ever more dangerously overcrowded and volatile.

"We understand there are presently around 2,000 migrants on site, with further high inbound volumes anticipated. It is difficult to see how this situation can now be managed effectively within the current operational strategy.”

The union warned that the issue of processing asylum-seekers had grown into a wider threat to border security.

“We are now seeing greater numbers of young fit male migrants, without clear prima facie asylum grounds - and on occasions not applying for asylum – and with suspected links to organised crime groups,” they said. “We believe this stark change in arrival profile poses significant criminality risks to our border security and to UK communities.”

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary and the immigration minister could be summoned to face MPs to explain the "car crash" decisions behind the chaos at a migrant holding centre.