UK government slammed for 'wretched' migrant centre conditions

Members of parliament from across the UK political divide have demanded that the ruling Conservative government improve the "wretched" conditions at an overcrowded facility for migrants.

Hundreds of people who crossed the English Channel in small boats have been moved to Manston, a former airfield in southeast England after another processing centre was hit with gasoline bombs on Sunday by an attacker who then killed himself.

There already were 3,000 people at the facility, which is intended to hold about half that number.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is due to deliver a statement to parliament on Monday to answer questions about conditions at Manston, following demands for her to do so from MPs.

It is supposed to be a temporary processing centre where new arrivals spend 24 hours before moving on to longer-term accommodation, but refugee groups say some people have been stuck there for weeks.

'Breach of humane conditions'

Chief Inspector of Borders David Neal, who recently visited the facility, said last week that conditions were “wretched”. He told MPs there had been cases of diphtheria and that “it’s a really dangerous situation”.

The Times reports that decisions taken by Braverman also led directly to overcrowding and outbreaks of scabies at Manston, citing multiple government sources.

Conservative MP Roger Gale, who represents the Manston area in parliament, said the situation was a “breach of humane conditions”.

“Up until about five weeks ago the system was working as it was intended to, very well indeed,” he said. “It’s now broken and it’s got to be mended fast.”

Gale accused the government of deliberately worsening conditions at Manston by refusing to book hotel rooms for asylum seekers.

“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,” he told the BBC.

“I want the person responsible for creating that problem to be held to account.”

Sharp increase in numbers

The UK receives fewer asylum-seekers than many European nations, including France and Germany.

Yet there has been a sharp increase in the number of people trying to cross the channel in dinghies and other small craft.

Some 40,000 have made the hazardous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes this year, up from 28,000 in all of 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.

Dozens died, including 27 people in November 2021 when a packed smuggling boat capsized.

The UK and France have wrangled over how to stop the people-smuggling gangs that organise the journeys.

Britain’s government has announced a controversial plan to send people who arrive in small boats on a one-way journey to Rwanda -- a plan it says will deter people from crossing the Channel and break the business model of smuggling gangs.

Critics say the plan is immoral and impractical, and it is being challenged in the courts. A similar plan is also on the cards in Denmark.

Braverman, appointed in September by former PM Liz Truss, is an enthusiastic supporter of the UK's stalled Rwanda plan and has been accused by critics of demonising migrants.

The government says problems are caused by a surge in migrant numbers, but critics accuse the government of allowing a backlog to develop.

Labour immigration spokesman Stephen Kinnock said there was “chaos and confusion, and incompetence now at the heart of the government’s immigration and asylum policy.”

“The government, rather than doing the hard yards and the hard graft of sorting out the backlog, is chasing headlines with things like the Rwanda plan, which is simply unworkable, unethical, and unaffordable,” he told Times Radio.