The Manston asylum centre at the centre of huge controversy over “Dickensian” conditions and overcrowding is now empty, The Independent understands.
More than 4,000 people were held at the asylum processing facility in Kent only weeks ago – despite its maximum capacity of 1,600.
A man who had been detained at the former military base denied on Saturday. The Home Office said he “became unwell” and was taken to hospital, but has provided no further information.
The government still faces legal action after some migrants were held for several weeks at a centre, which was designed only to host people for up to 24 hours.
Hundreds of asylum seekers have been moved to hotels in recent days and the site is now empty, according to campaign group sources.
The transfer of people into hotels has been helped by a lull in migrants crossing the English Channel, but calmer weather will hail the arrival of more boats and November 2021 was the busiest month of that year.
It follows several controversies at the site, including an outbreak of diptheria and scabies, while families were left sleeping on mats inside tents.
Detention Action and the PCS union have sent pre-action legal letter to home secretary Suella Braverman on behalf of a woman held at Manston “beyond statutory time limits”.
They allege her detention was unlawful on the basis of “inhuman or degrading treatment” through poor conditions, violating detention policy, a lack of privacy and obstacles to communication with relatives and lawyers.
James Wilson, Detention Action deputy director, said potentially thousands of people “may be legally entitled to compensation for their mistreatment at Manston”.
He said: “The home secretary has only taken steps to address her serious failures at Manston after our urgent legal challenge and widespread, public condemnation.”
Mr Wilson added: “We are still concerned at this government’s knee-jerk response to this issue, including proposals to hold people in disused student accommodation, defunct military bases or unused holiday camps, where many of the problems we saw at Manston are likely to be repeated.”
Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at the PCS, said the conditions endured by refugees at Manston had been a “disgrace” until a recent scramble by the Home Office to move people into hotels.
“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,” he added.
“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.”
With the use of hotels proving the ire of some Tory MPs, officials have drawn up plans to move asylum seekers to student accommodation, old military bases and unused holiday camps, according to The Telegraph.
Hannah Marwood, legal access manager at Care4Calais, warned that the Manston site could soon fill up again.
The campaigner told The Independent: “This happened with Napier Barracks when the government was criticised for the living conditions there last year. It was emptied, but within a few weeks was brought back into use with less people accommodated.”
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said on Monday that there had been “a huge effort over the last two or three weeks to reduce the population of the site”.
“It’s functioning as it should be now – which is as a short-term processing unit where people’s security details like their biometrics are taken, and then they’re removed as quickly as possible and sent on to other accommodation,” said Mr Jenrick.
Andy Baxter of the Prison Officers Association had described conditions at Manston as “Dickensian” and had warned potential for riots amid “pressure cooker” overcrowding.
The government has attributed the situation to the “unprecedented” number of Channel crossings, but the figures for 2022 are so far running below an internal Home Office prediction of 65,000 people.