Under-fire home secretary Suella Braverman is under mounting pressure to relieve “catastrophic overcrowding” at Britain’s main asylum processing centre for Channel migrants.
Ms Braverman is reportedly considering plans to house asylum seekers in hotels, holiday camps and other resorts – alongside members of the public, rather than block-booking entire premises on behalf of applicants – after it emerged that the Manston facility, near Thanet in Kent, is currently occupied by an estimated 4,000 people, despite having been designed for just 1,600.
The site, opened in January on a defunct airfield formerly used as a Defence Fire Training and Development Centre, was supposed to be a short-term holding facility where migrants could be hosted for 24 hours and processed by Border Force staff before being moved on to temporary accommodation.
However, Manston has been overwhelmed in recent months due to the high number of Channel crossings seen this year, meaning dire living conditions have been allowed to prevail and outbreaks of diseases including diphtheria and MSRA reported.
A further 1,900 migrants made the perilous journey across the English Channel over the weekend, taking the total so far this year to 40,000. This intensified a situation then made worse after a man attacked another detention centre in Dover with petrol bombs on Sunday. He later took his own life, forcing the transfer of a further 700 migrants from that facility to Manston.
The total number of Channel crossings in the year to late October marks a dramatic increase on the 28,500 who made the trip in 2021.
Ms Braverman has already been accused of failing to act on legal advice that the length of time people are being detained at Manston is unlawful, counsel she allegedly received at least three weeks ago, according to The Sunday Times.
“The home secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation. Claims advice was deliberately ignored are completely baseless,” a spokesperson for her department insisted in response to that story.
“It is right we look at all available options so decisions can be made based on the latest operational and legal advice.
“The number of people arriving in the UK via small boats has reached record levels, which has put our asylum system under incredible pressure and costs the British taxpayer millions of pounds a day.”
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick visited Manston on Sunday days after David Neal, chief inspector of borders and immigration, said he was left “speechless” by the safety problems he observed there.
Mr Neal warned the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday of inadequate staffing, refugee families living in tents in “pretty wretched conditions” for extended periods and the prospect of fights erupting.
“It’s a really dangerous situation,” he said. “It’s failing to address vulnerability… There are risks there in terms of fire, in terms of disorder, in terms of medical and infection.”
Mr Neal also took the opportunity to denounce a “creeping lack of ambition” he believed was afflicting the Home Office and impairing its resolve to act.
Mr Jenrick’s cabinet colleague, Michael Gove likewise told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the situation at Manston was “deeply concerning” and “not what it should be”.
Ratcheting up the political tension further was Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, whose North Thanet constituency includes Manston, who suggested on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning that the crisis had “almost been developed deliberately”.
Sir Roger called for fresh talks with France, saying: “That is the grown-up way to solve this problem. We’re not going to do it by knee-jerk dog whistle politics.”
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke also called for an “entirely fresh approach” to tackle the problem during an interview with TalkTV, adding: “What’s been happening is simply not working.”