Home Secretary‘s decisions to block refugee transfers led to overcrowding and outbreaks of scabies and diptheria
5 November 2022
29/10/22: Home secretary Suella Braverman ’s decisions to block transfers led to overcrowding and outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria at a holding facility for asylum seekers , according to a report.
She was said to have been warned by officials that she risked breaking the law by keeping migrants at a processing centre near Manston Airport in Kent – intended to hold people for 24 hours – for several weeks.
Multiple government sources told The Times newspaper that Ms Braverman blocked the transfer of thousands of refugees to hotels during her first spell as home secretary under Liz Truss.
“She was refusing to allow anyone to leave Manston, even though the numbers were well above its capacity,” one source told the newspaper.
Earlier this week MPs heard that almost 3,000 people were crowded into the facility at a former RAF base, where cases of diphtheria and scabies have been reported.
An Afghan family with young children has been detained in a tent for a month because of the “chaotic” response to Channel crossings, the Home Affairs select committee was told.
David Neal, the independent chief inspector of Borders and Immigration, told the committee that he was left “speechless” by what he witnessed during a visit.
There are no cooking facilities and some asylum seekers are sleeping on mats on the floor, because the Home Office has no accommodation unit to move them into while their claims are processed.
On Monday – before Ms Braverman was controversially reappointed home secretary by Rishi Sunak – three hotels were reportedly opened to asylum seekers to ease the overcrowding.
The move was said to have been authorised after Grant Shapps, who had temporarily replaced Ms Braverman at the Home Office, was told about the conditions at Manston.
The Refugee Council said one boy had contracted scabies, a skin infection, having stayed at Manston facility for 19 days amid “inhumane” conditions during Ms Braverman’s first stint as home secretary.
The Home Office confirmed a small outbreak of diphtheria, a contagious bacterial infection which can prove fatal if it goes untreated, at the Kent site earlier in October. The department said a “very small number of cases” occurred and medical protocols were followed.
Mark Davies, of the Refugee Council, told The Independent: “What is happening at Manston is inhumane. The government cannot shy away from the facts – there is overcrowding, disease and risks of disorder.”
He added: “The answer is to create a fast-track task force to address the backlogs. We urge ministers to remember that behind every case there is a face, people who have fled war, persecution and conflict.”
James Wilson, deputy director at Detention Action, said the camp remained “hugely overcrowded, unhygienic and unsafe” and was on the verge of becoming a “public health disaster”.
He added: “Suella Braverman appears to have directly worsened the problems by blocking transfers out of the camp. She must address the situation urgently, and move people to safe, appropriate accommodation.”
The Home Office said it was providing food, clothing and medical care, but acknowledged that the large number of arrivals on small boats crossing the English Channel had put strain on system.
A spokesperson said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.”
“The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer more than £5m a day. The use of hotels is a short-term solution and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.”
It comes as Mr Sunak comes under fire for re-appointing Ms Braverman only six days after she was fired by his predecessor Liz Truss over a security breach.
The controversial right-winger admitted to a “technical infringement” of the ministerial rules by sharing an official government document from her personal email.
Several sources disputed Ms Braverman’s claim to have reported her mistake to the cabinet secretary Simon Case as soon as she realised, telling the BBC she had been “in denial” about the breach.
Ms Braverman is understood to have sent sensitive documents from her personal email account to Tory MP John Hayes, but accidentally also copied in another MP who informed the party’s chief whip before the details were passed on to Mr Case.
Ms Braverman leaked details about a “growth visa” planned by Ms Truss, according to The Sun.
Labour has called on Mr Sunak to clarify whether Ms Braverman leaked market-sensitive data, since any details regarding growth visa could affect Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) growth forecasts.
Shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden wrote to the new PM asking for assurances that vital information “has not and will not fall into the hands of actors in the UK gilt market”
He added: “It is astonishing that the home secretary may have leaked information about immigration policy which could have an impact on the OBR forecast and the decisions the government is considering in the run up to the autumn statement.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Mr Sunak of doing a “grubby deal” in exchange for backing him against rival Penny Mordaunt. “He should sack her – that would be the strong thing to do.”
(Reprinted from the Times)