Home secretary under fire as Tory MP suggests migrant centre 'deliberately' left to deteriorate

The home secretary is under pressure over the problems at the Manston migrant centre and her use of a personal email address to send government documents. ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is under mounting pressure to answer questions over "wholly unacceptable" conditions and severe overcrowding at a migrant processing centre in Kent.

The Manston migration centre is designed to hold a maximum of 1,500 to 1,800 people at a time but it is is understood that 4,000 asylum seekers are currently being held there.

There have been reports of outbreaks of diphtheria, MRSA and scabies, while many are sleeping on the floors of the centre.

The law stipulates that asylum seekers should not be held at the processing centre for more than 24 hours while they undergo checks before being moved to asylum accommodation or immigration detention centres.

However, some have stayed at Manston for as long as four weeks.

The conditions are described as "very austere", a witness told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, with no beds or even proper mattresses, only blankets and a few army-style rolled up mattresses.

Hundreds more were moved to Manston after incendiary devices were thrown at another migrant processing centre. Credit: PA

Hundreds more were moved to Manston on Sunday after flammable devices were thrown at a Border Force migrant centre in Dover causing a blaze and leaving two injured. Police confirmed the suspect was later found dead.

Tory MP Sir Roger Gale suggested the Home Office allowed conditions at Manston to deteriorate "deliberately" as he described the situation there as a "breach of humane conditions".

Up until five weeks ago, Sir Roger said, the system was working as it intended but it is "now broken".

Sir Roger told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are simply far too many people and this situation should never have been allowed to develop, and I’m not sure that it hasn’t almost been developed deliberately.”

He said he was told that the Home Office was finding it very difficult to secure hotel accommodation, adding that he now understands that this was a policy issue and a decision was taken not to book additional hotel space.

Sir Roger said he believes it was a decision taken by the home secretary, but is not sure whether it was Priti Patel or Suella Braverman.

Food and Environment Minister Mark Spencer said the conditions "aren't quite as bad as some people will have you believe" and called the reports "over-exaggerated".

Despite Manston being overcrowded and although some asylum seekers are having to stay weeks over the 24-hour limit, Mr Spencer claimed it is best to process newly arrived asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel in small boats at one sole site.

"We want to process them [asylum seekers] as quickly as possible. We want to work out who's a genuine asylum seeker and who could be re-located to another safe country," he told ITV News.

"That's best done in one location so that we can do that process as quickly as possible."

Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock told ITV News the situation at Manston was the result of a "totally incompetent and chaotic government".

He called for Ms Braverman to resign or be sacked by the prime minister over the conditions at Manston and for sending official government documents to her personal email.

"There's incompetence and inability to be trusted with national security but there is also the basic lack of humanity and decency that she's shown by not allowing the transfer of people out of Manston, and creating the crisis there," said Mr Kinnock.

He called for an overhaul of the entire system so the government can speed up the processing of asylum claims.

"That would actually stop so many people wanting to cross the Channel because at the moment they know they can be here for years on end because the system is so backed up.

"And it would enable us to get more people out of hotels who are valid asylum seekers and into the communities so that they can have leave to remain and are able to work."

Asylum seekers are 'stuck in limbo' because the processing system has 'completely broken down under this totally incompetent and chaotic government' - Stephen Kinnock MP

Meanwhile, more than 110 refugee charities have signed an open letter to the Cabinet minister, calling for a “kind and effective system” for those seeking asylum in the UK.

It referred to comments made by Ms Braverman at a fringe event during the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, that her “dream” and “obsession” is seeing a plane taking off to Rwanda with migrants.

She has also said the only way for refugees to get into the UK is through a “safe and legal route”.

Suella Braverman during the Tory Party conference said her ‘dream’ and ‘obsession’ is seeing a plane taking off to Rwanda with migrants. Credit: PA

The letter read: “Home Secretary, when you talk of ‘safe and legal routes’, you must be aware that it is impossible to ask refugees to come exclusively through such a path when even Afghan interpreters who are eligible for one of our few existing schemes remain in hiding from the Taliban.

“When you talk of ‘illegal migrants’, you must be aware that the top nationalities of people making dangerous journeys include Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria, and that at least 97% of asylum claims made by people from these countries are successful.

“When you question the existence of ‘modern slavery’, you must be aware that you are dismantling your own party’s proud and internationally-recognised achievement in protecting the survivors of trafficking.

“And when you complain about the cost of housing asylum seekers, you must be aware that, while people seeking safety did not choose to leave their homelands, they are willing to work and keen to contribute, if only the law permitted them.

“You have referred to this country’s proud history of offering sanctuary, so we ask you to make this happen with a fair, kind and effective system for refugees.

“Deal with the backlog in asylum cases, create safe routes, respect international law, and the UN convention on refugees, and give refugees a fair hearing, however they get here. Then you would have really done something worth dreaming about.”

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The letter, co-ordinated by charity IMIX and coalition campaign Together With Refugees, was signed by groups such as Choose Love, Christian Aid, City of Sanctuary UK, Doctors of the World, English National Opera, Freedom from Torture, Good Chance Theatre, JCORE, Jesuit Refugee Service, Rainbow Migration, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Scottish Refugee Council, Safe Passage and Save the Children.

It came as almost 1,000 migrants arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel on Saturday.

Earlier this month, Ms Braverman said migrants crossing the Channel will face a ban from claiming asylum in Britain.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “Every day in our therapy rooms torture survivors tell us about the hardship that 12 years of anti-refugee policies have caused them. Suella Braverman’s policy proposals promise to intensify their cruelty.

“Braverman’s dream of flying refugees to Rwanda by Christmas seems even further from realisation, after the airline hired to carry out the fights bowed to pressure from Freedom from Torture and pulled out of the scheme.

“This letter shows the depth of feeling against the Government’s anti-refugee policies and that there are positive alternatives possible.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection for those who genuinely need it through our safe and legal routes, recently welcoming hundreds of thousands of people from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

“The public rightly expects us to control immigration, at a time when the number of people arriving in the UK via small boats has reached record levels, placing pressure on the asylum system and stretching our capacity to support those in need.

“We are using every tool at our disposal to deter illegal migration, disrupt the business model of people smugglers and relocate to Rwanda, those with no right to be in the UK.”