Forced to live in densely overcrowded rooms where serious infectious diseases are rife.
Sleeping on a bare floor with just one blanket.
Unable to shower for ten days because there is no hot water, and being constantly hungry.
That’s how one 16-year-old boy has described to us his experience of being held in Manston, the reception centre for newly arrived refugees in Kent that has become a national scandal.
Last week, the UK’s Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration visited the centre and described it as “dangerous” and “wretched”. Today, Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for the area, has said the situation there is “a breach of humane conditions”.
We know from reports we have had that the situation is truly shocking, and a severe failure of care and planning.
The centre – a disused airfield – currently houses 4,000 refugees, against a supposed limit of 1,600. There are outbreaks of diphtheria, MRSA and scabies.
The boy we spoke to said the toilet facilities were dirty, and there were no basins for handwashing. Because there was often no food left, his diet had consisted chiefly of biscuits.
And the suffering is being compounded by the way people are treated.
We spoke to one woman who had been held there for 15 days. On arrival, all her possessions were taken from her. She had to borrow a phone to talk to us.
Gale says “someone needs to be held to account” for the scandal in his constituency – and we could not agree more.
Because this is not a problem that appeared from nowhere. In fact, it is a problem created by the government itself.
Knowing the numbers of refugees would increase, the government could – and should – have planned how to deal with them
It is every government’s duty to look at what the future is expected to bring, and to plan accordingly. We have all known for a long time that increasing numbers of small boats are arriving from Europe. And it was as crystal clear as a bright day on the English Channel that nothing was changing to stop that.
Instead it chose not to act, but to brand people coming from Calais as “illegal immigrants” – a term that ignores significant evidence, much of it featured on Parliament’s own website, that the vast majority are genuine refugees coming simply to ask for our help.
Using such divisive and cruel rhetoric does not resolve any issues. Rather, it creates more problems by fostering anxiety and resentment. This damages our society, and creates fear and discord in our communities. From her pronouncements so far, it appears that Suella Braverman will only escalate the tension on all sides of the debate.
People should be held at Manston for a maximum of five days before they are moved on to asylum accommodation. Clearly, the centre has particular problems, but the barrier to this happening, like many other failures in the asylum system, is ultimately being caused by massive backlogs in asylum processing across the country.
More than 100,000 asylum claims are currently outstanding in the UK, and many people are waiting between one and two years for their claims to be heard. Astonishingly, 96% of asylum claims from 2021 remain unresolved.
If these claims were simply processed, these thousands of people could move on with their lives. If their claims were to be granted they could become part of our communities, get jobs and find homes. There would be no £7m-a-day cost to the taxpayer of keeping them in hotels; they could contribute to our economic growth, and help solve current worker shortages in industries such as travel, hospitality and the care industry.
And there would not be outbreaks of disease, hungry children sleeping on floors and needless suffering of the kind we are seeing at Manston.
What we are seeing in Kent is a national disgrace. But its most lamentable aspect is that it would have been so easy to avoid.
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