New disease warning over migrants held at Manston

Temporary buildings used to house migrants at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility in Thanet, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
Temporary buildings used to house migrants at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility in Thanet, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

The crisis-blighted Manston migrant processing centre in Kent is at risk of a new wave of disease and disorder with vulnerable children and families being held there for too long, a government watchdog has warned Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, said the processing centre — engulfed in controversy last autumn because of the excessive numbers of migrants being held there in unsuitable conditions after arriving on small boats across the Channel — is still currently failing to ensure the most vulnerable children are being identified and helped.

He said there was also a lack of adequate leadership because of the number of different contractors working with the Border Force at the site and “no proper oversight of the use of force or violent incidents” or data to check whether such interventions by staff were justified.

In a report to the Home Secretary, Mr Taylor said the problems were being compounded by the insufficient use of interpreters “so those at risk could easily have been missed” and that staff from the contractor Mitie, which runs Manston, were “distant in their interactions with migrants, sitting behind a desk talking to each other, rather than engaging with the people in their care”.

Other problems included children being held “for far too long”, with 337 minors held beyond the statutory 24-hour limit for unaccompanied children, the lack of a private area for breast-feeding mothers, and “many staff at Manston” not being checked against the Government’s Disclosure and Barring Service database to identify potentially unsuitable employees. Mr Taylor added that despite the failings Manston was functioning “reasonably” when his inspectorate visited because it was “fairly empty” at the time.

But he gave a stark warning to ministers that the severe overcrowding, diphtheria and violence which erupted at the centre last autumn, prompting a political outcry, was in danger of being repeated this summer. “I was not assured that if numbers increase, as they are expected to in the summer, the site will be able to cope much better than it did during the autumn,” he says in his report.

“This could lead to vulnerable children and families remaining on the site for too long, the risk of infectious disease spreading and an increased possibility of disorder. It must be an absolute priority for the Home Office to make sure there are enough on-site staff and onward accommodation, so migrants pass through Manston without delay.”

Mr Taylor says the inspection on which today’s report is based uncovered 11 “concerns” including that although facilities at Manston were adequate for short stays of 24 hours or less, but not for longer periods, some migrants were being held for “considerably longer in marquees in unacceptable conditions.”

He says there is also “poor” governance of “adult and child safeguarding” and similarly “poor” care planning for vulnerable detainees, children and those with disabilities.” The new findings will place new pressure on Rishi Sunak and Ms Braverman as they seek to reduce Channel crossings.

The Home Office said it welcomed the acknowledgment by Mr Taylor that improvements had been made at Manston and that it had “already taken action to address some of the recommendations” in Tuesday’s report.

“Our staff are working relentlessly to reduce detention times, improve facilities and provide specialist medical care for unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving in the UK illegally,” a spokesman added.