Inhumane and illegal: the scandal of Manston

Photo: Karen Constantine

Karen Constantine explains how the Tories waste money and then blame immigrants

Local Labour councillors, activists, the general public and journalists are all concerned about the treatment of, and facilities for, refugees at the Manston detention centre. The centre is highly private, located three miles away from my division of Ramsgate in Tory-dominated Kent. It is largely tented, completely shielded from public view, and it’s impossible to gain access. This is despite repeated requests seeking access as the county councillor for the area.  

I frequently hear worrying stories about the conditions in the centre and of the poor treatment of individuals. Rumours circulate that bullying of ‘residents’ is frequent, and that people don’t get effective access to medical services and are being forced to sleep on floors. 

At one point last year, more than 1,800 people – men, women and children – were being held for days and weeks at a time. The facility is intended to accommodate no more than 1,000 people for a maximum of 24 hours. The predictable outcome of inhumane and illegal overcrowding was the transmission of disease: Covid, scabies, TB and diphtheria romped through the facility. 

Prison Officers Association members were seriously concerned about the conditions, highlighting the unsuitable tents, lack of beds and bedding, no washing facilities, and that food and water also ran out.

It’s hardly the picture of luxury that the right-wing media paints. It’s a miserable, inhospitable and a deliberately secret place. People who do manage to obtain a visit – journalists and government workers, for example – describe being shocked at the conditions. 

The local MPs – Craig Mackinlay, the ex-founder of UKIP who defected to the Tories, and the lacklustre Sir Roger Gale – do nothing to highlight, challenge or alleviate the conditions. Indeed, ardent Brexiteer Mackinlay, who leads the Net Zero Scrutiny Group and the Global Warming Policy Foundation, vociferously criticised the Home Office last year for their decision to lease an empty 86-bedroom student accommodation block to house asylum seekers. He complained that the block was in a “residential area” and that “it’s near to quite a number of primary and senior schools”. He’s all heart. 

On 24th May I happened to visit a local community centre. Inside the centre, one area was packed with a massive donation of food. Of course, the centre is delighted to have a donation, as many in the area are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. A closer look reveals a range of unhealthy snack foods, sugary drinks, long-life croissants and thousands of pots of instant noodle meals. 

The donation is from the Manston detention centre, where apparently there are hangars (it’s an ex-RAF base) full of food, much of which is over-ordered stock and is now close to its sell-by date. My contact says although there are many fewer migrants at the centre, food is still being ordered and stored. “What a waste!” I hear you cry.

Questions must be asked about the scale of this problem. I can only assume that this over-ordering and hoarding is deliberate. Is this going on up and down the country? At what cost? 

At a time when feverish attempts are continually being made to demonise immigrants, the public need to know the truth. It’s not immigration that’s the problem; the public purse is being rinsed out by the ineptitude of Home Secretary Suella Braverman. It’s just another example of Tory mismanagement. 

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