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Manston Immigration Centre: is the UK violating international migration law?

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On Saturday 19 November, a 31-year-old man from Iraq – Hussein Haseeb Ahmed – who arrived at Manston Immigration Centre fell ill and was escorted to (specify hospital) where he later passed away that evening. It comes weeks after a group of eleven asylum seekers coming from the Manston Immigration Centre were left stranded at Victoria Railway Station in London. Volunteers, working with the Under One Sky homelessness charity, reported that they were alone with nowhere to stay, no winter clothes provided and no explanation given. The news has gone viral days after the Home Office has been put under increased pressure as a result of what was found during an inspection at the Kent facility last July. What emerged from the inspection is that the conditions in which asylum seekers were forced to live were inhumane and that the centre has become dangerously overcrowded. 

The Manston Immigration Centre was opened last January by the Home Office with the intention of using it as a short-term holding facility and processing centre. It has been designed to host 1,000 people for no longer than a day, while security, identity and health checks are processed. Once undergoing such checks, people are supposed to be moved to alternative accommodations, such as hotels. The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has been strongly criticised by senior Tory MPs for the government’s inability to source alternative arrangements to accommodate people elsewhere, as well as for the supposed poor treatment endured by asylum seekers during their stay at Manston. 

According to the report , extremely worrying conditions were found at several short-term holding facilities. At Manston in particular, people’s welfare was affected by an overcrowded place, lack of health and safety procedures and inconsistent services. 

What emerged from the inspection was that statutory laws had been breached multiple times, with asylum seekers often detained in the centre for more than 24 hours without being able to access residential accommodations like hotels, resulting in a dangerous spread of infections. Outbreaks of norovirus, scabies and diphtheria have been reported as adults and children were forced to stay in overcrowded tents, sleeping on the floor and sharing blankets.

Moreover, it has been reported that fair and quick processing was not granted, as professional interpretation was provided only occasionally and people lamented the impossibility to access phones adequately in order to notify their families of their whereabouts and whether or not they were safe. Very little information was provided about their application and the next steps to follow once out of the processing centre, leaving them in a situation of uncertainty and stress. The inspectors noted a lack of sensitivity as asylum seekers were searched too many times by Home Office staff, often resulting in an excessive and unjustified use of force.

Checks and interviews were held in crowded and noisy rooms where it was hard to understand each other, creating an environment that was both hostile and unsuitable for women and children, who were not adequately safeguarded. Treated as actual detainees, people were not even allowed to use toilets in private as doors would not fully close.

The concerns identified during the inspection shed light on what is really happening at migrant processing centres. The conditions to which people were subjected during their stay at Manston are a serious breach of human rights and international law. Specifically, by not granting a safe and quick stay at the processing centre and holding people for more than 24 hours without adequate access to phones or legal help, the Home Office has violated both its own rules and art.5 of the European Convention on Human Rights – part of UK law under the Human Rights Act 1998. Focusing on protecting people from unreasonable detention, art.5 guarantees personal freedom and if arrested or detained somewhere, the individual has the right to access legal help, to be given information in a language they understand and to have their case analysed and solved as quickly as possible. Art.3 – freedom from torture, inhumane or degrading treatment – has also been violated as adults and children have been forced to stay in inhumane conditions which strongly undermined their dignity. Par ricochet, articles 8 and 14 – respectively, right to private and family life and right not to be discriminated against – were also violated during the stay at Manston Processing Centre. With regards to internal laws, under Section 147 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, people can be detained at short-term holding facilities for seven days, but according to the STHF Rules 2018, non-residential short-term holding facilities can hold people for just 24 hours. Furthermore, under the Immigration Act 2016, normally an immigration bail to live in the UK is given to asylum seekers until their case is determined. Also, according to the Hardial Singh principles, detention is only supposed to be used when deportation is imminent and while their cases are analysed, people are supposed to be accommodated in suitable conditions.

What has transpired lately is that the migration system in the UK is obviously broken and the government is not interested in resolving the situation any time soon, blaming the refugees and planning to help them by sending them to Rwanda to stop the “illegal invasion”. People arriving at Manston Centre have not entered the country illegally and are not supposed to be in detention at all. The 1951 Refugee Convention states that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means to reach another country. The legal action against the Home Office is asking Braverman to declare illegal the detention of asylum seekers for longer than 24 hours and to focus on making the process of obtaining asylum fair and efficient in the UK. 

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