The government’s failure at Manston is a failure of massive proportions. It is a failure of planning and of organisation. It is also a failure to manage taxpayers’ monies effectively and most of all, it is a failure to be humane. Using the language of ‘invasion’ recently, the Home Secretary manages to demonise not just people fleeing trauma and persecution, but also those in search of a better life. As the numbers seeking asylum rise, this rhetoric is foolhardy at worst and dog-whistle dangerous at best.

People in Manston are sleeping on basic roll-up matresses in temporary, large-tent structures. These are designed to be one-night-only “beds” before paperwork is completely and more long-term assigned accommodation is found. There have been over 4000 people sleeping overnight in recent weeks, in accommodation only designed to hold a maximum of 1600 people. It is cramped. It is not-fit-for-purpose. There have been outbreaks of scabies and other sicknesses within the facility. There are children in the facility and every over-stay in Manston (people who do stay more than one night) is potentially an illegal breach of statuatory duty which could end up with the UK government paying out millions.

The government’s twin promises to get a grip on our asylum system and to govern with “compassion” are both in tatters and unless someone steps in right now, the situation at Manston is only going to deteriorate. October and November always see huge amounts of small boat crossings, as seasonal agricultural workers leaving their jobs in Europe seek opportunities elsewhere as winter sets in. This swells the numbers (adding to those fleeing genuine trauma, war and threat) risking perilous boat crossings across the channel, boat crossings that wouldn’t be needed if the government offered legal and safe routes, including the opportunity to gain an asylum visa in France or at embassies elsewhere before crossing legally and having full claims processed here, where authorities have advance notice on numbers, entry points, identity data and need.

The cost of housing asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their immigration statues is currently 6 million a night (hotel spend per person claiming asylum averages around £150). This is £2.2 billion a year around the same as the entire government’s Digital, Culture, Media & Sport budget. People are often waiting more than 2 years just to be interviewed to tell their story. Clearly the system is broken: the asylum processing system is spending all the budget on accommodation and only a slither of the amount needed on administration, personnel and operations. It is hard to see without a massive, one-off injection in funding for administration how the cycle is broken. Arrivals will continue to wait longer and longer for the processing of their claims. This is all taxpayers’ money and it is a gross misuse of funds. It is an epic failure of organisation…in fact it is an almost complete collapse of organsation and only this government – in power for the last twelve years – is to blame.

 

People at the fence line in Manston
People at the fence line in Manston

So far, the hopeless Home Secretary has failed to explain who is responsibe for the disasterious mismatch in the number of arrivals and the number of procured beds for people to be sent to, after one night at a processing centre such as Manston. The Home Secretary has also failed to confirm how many hotel rooms she has signed off in the past months compared to how many she has been asked to sign off; she must confirm that she never refused to sign off hotel bookings because ‘they were in Tory areas’; she has failed to lay out any plan for sorting out the effective and timely processing of asylum claims and she has failed to explain how the government will justify paying out up to £6000 in legal claims to each person whose legal rights (under UK law) are being breached by overstays at Manston. There are a lot of questions remaining unanswered and while they do, people suffer in appalling conditions and taxpayers’ money is wasted.

People locally have been raising this issue in the news for months. Cllr Karen Constantine made an impassioned speech at County Hall in Maidstone about the issue last week. She described Manston as a ‘tented prison’ and told Kent County Council to acknowledge that ‘all people are equal’ and that the current conditions at the centre must not be allowed to continue.

It is clear that everyone is losing in the UK’s asylum system. The current situation is untenable. It is a national embarrassement. Without someone effective taking over, the UK’s asylum processing system will continue to hurt and degrade those who suffer and linger in it and indeed those who pay for it.

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