Asylum seekers at the processing centre in Manston are threatening to self-harm and go on hunger strike, according to a prison officers’ chief.
Andy Baxter of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) warned of the potential for riots at the overcrowded Kent facility experiencing “pressure cooker” conditions.
Hundreds of migrants have been moved following overcrowding, with 4,000 people being held at the site. Some have spent weeks at the facility designed to hold people for 24 hours.
“The unrest is spreading across the camp – our members are facing threats from people constantly saying ‘what’s happening to me? When will I be getting moved on?’” Mr Baxter told Sky News.
He said: “When our members can’t give them an answer, people start making threats to have sit-down protests, threats to go on hunger strike and people making threats of self-harm.”
The assistant general secretary of the POA, representing detention custody officers at Manston, added: “Eventually I think we’ll see a serious breakdown in public order … potentially a riot.”
The exact number to have been relocated in recent days has not been confirmed, but Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for the North Thanet constituency which includes Manston, said “several hundred” had already been moved.
The union representing Border Force staff working at the site said earlier on Tuesday that the Home Office hoped to take 400 people out of the site.
Some families were said to have been sleeping on the floor and there have been reports of outbreaks of disease, including diphtheria and scabies.
The British Red Cross said “the serious problems at Manston are indicative of the wider issues facing the asylum system” calling on the government to urgently find ways of reducing the backlog of asylum decisions.
Asked about overcrowding at the Manston asylum centre, cabinet minister Mark Harper said: “Over time we’ll be able to reduce the numbers in that camp … Progress is starting to be made but it is clearly not going to be solved overnight.”
The government is said to be drawing up plans to change asylum rules so Albanians arriving on small boats will have their claims assessed separately and “within days” in a bid to start rapid returns.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who said ministers were working on a “fast track” system plans to visit Albania in the next fortnight, according to The Times.
Mr Harper also defended Suella Braverman over her inflammatory language on small boat crossings after the home secretary claimed there was an “invasion” of migrants on the south coast.
The transport secretary told Sky News Ms Braverman was demonstrating to the public “she understands the scale of the problem”.
Mr Harper added: “The public understanding that politicians get that this is real problem actually can help people feel reassured that someone gets the problem and is focused on dealing with it, which is actually a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Ms Braverman risks inflaming the migration row with plans for vulnerable child refugees to undergo X-rays to verify their age. Refugee charity Care4Calais told The Independent the X-ray proposals raised “serious safeguarding concerns”.
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes has warned of “very serious cost implications” for the Home Office linked to the Manston asylum processing centre.
The MP told Channel 4 News: “It’s perfectly possible that people who have no valid claim for asylum could be in receipt of compensation and claims because they have been kept in Manston … this is taxpayers’ money being spent that actually is to no good effect.”
Meanwhile, counter-terrorism police have taken over the investigation into the firebombing of an immigration processing centre in Dover, Kent, on Sunday, which detectives believe was sparked by “some form of hate filled grievance”.
Andrew Leak, 66, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, is believed to have killed himself after throwing two or three “crude” incendiary devices.
Detective Chief Superintendent Olly Wright, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE), said: “What appears clear is that this despicable offence was targeted and likely to be driven by some form of hate filled grievance, though this may not necessarily meet the threshold of terrorism.”