Image source, PA Media
Image caption, Manston Airport detention centre in Kent
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been criticised over the conditions at a migrant processing centre at Manston in Kent.
There are thousands of migrants at the camp, which the local Conservative MP Roger Gale says is now “overwhelmed”.
What is Manston migrant centre?
Manston, a former military base in Kent, opened as a processing centre in February 2022, for the growing number of migrants reaching the UK in small boats.
In December 2021, the Home Office said it would hold “illegal migrants …for up to five days as security and identity checks are completed”.
After these checks, migrants are meant to be moved into the Home Office’s asylum accommodation system, which often means a hotel – due to a shortage of available accommodation.
Some go to immigration detention centres if the government believes it has a case to remove them.
The Home Office said last week: “The aim was to run a site that had between 1,000 and 1,600 people passing through it every day, and that all of those checks would be completed in under 24 hours. For a large part of this year, that is exactly how it was operating”.
What are the problems at Manston?
There are currently around 4,000 migrants at Manston, according to Mr Gale. The Home Office would not comment on the current numbers there.
Some migrants are being held for longer periods of time because of an apparent lack of alternative accommodation.
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal visited the camp on 24 October and said there were 2,800 migrants there on that day.
He told MPs: “I spoke to an Afghan family who had been in a marquee for 32 days.”
He reported that migrants were being guarded by untrained custody officers and said: “What is really concerning and alarming is that the numbers, as described, are clearly outstripping the capacity of the site.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible.”
Image caption, There are families with children amongst people held at Manston
What was the role of Suella Braverman?
The Times reported on Saturday that Ms Braverman was told at least three weeks ago that migrants, including families, were being held at Manston for four weeks, putting the government in breach of the law.
The BBC has been told that she was warned that the government was breaching statutory duties by failing to sign off on ways to immediately move people to hotels or alternative accommodation.
The BBC has spoken to sources familiar with the situation. One source said there was “crystal clear” advice that the government was not acting within the law.
We don’t what the exact legal advice was but the law generally says that people cannot be detained against their will unless there is a good reason to do so.
Mr Gale told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I was told that the Home Office was finding it very difficult to secure hotel accommodation. I now understand that this was a policy issue and that a decision was taken not to book additional hotel space.”
However, Ms Braverman told MPs: “On no occasion did i block hotels or veto advice to procure extra and emergency accommodation.”
She said that since 6 September 2022, deals with 30 hotels had been agreed and 9,000 migrants had left Manston, with many heading to hotel accommodation.
Why is there a backlog?
At the end of June 2022 there were almost 100,000 asylum claims waiting for an initial decision from the Home Office.
One reason for the increased backlog – which is two and a half times higher than at the end of 2019 – is the rise in number of asylum applications.
In 2021, there were 48,450 applications, compared to 63,089 so far in 2022. Large increases in small boat crossings have driven this trend.
A Home Affairs Committee report published over the summer said that “antiquated IT systems, high staff turnover, and too few staff are among the reasons for this slow pace”.
The asylum backlog has left thousands of asylum seekers waiting in short term accommodation – such as hotels – which is costing the government around £5.6m per day.
The pressure in the asylum system worsened during the pandemic as people were prevented from being moved on to long-term accommodation because of the lockdown.
The Home Affairs Committee reported that in September 2021,13,000 asylum seekers were living in hotels.
What about other migrant centres?
The government uses another site in Kent – Western Jet Foil – as a processing centre where initial checks take place.
Earlier this year, a processing centre was due to open in the Yorkshire village of Linton-on-Ouse. The proposal was scrapped after opposition from the local Conservative council
There are currently seven immigration removal centres located across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland which hold people who are about to be removed from the UK.
However, some migrants have been sent here upon arrival when there is no space at processing centres.
Other types of detention centres – such as short-term holding centres – are based in Manchester and Northern Ireland.