Pressure mounts as government threatened with legal action over 'egregiously defective' migrant conditions

3 November 2022, 21:03 | Updated: 3 November 2022, 21:07

The government could be sued over migrant conditions in Manston
The government could be sued over migrant conditions in Manston. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Two separate charities have threatened to sue the government over the conditions migrants are enduring in the Manston processing centre - a day after a minister confirmed that the government is likely to face a judicial review over the same problems.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Detention Action and Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) sent letters to the Home Office challenging "the unlawful treatment of people held at the facility".

It comes after immigration minister Robert Jenrick said on Wednesday that the government had received "initial contact for a judicial review" over Manston, but could not comment on who was behind the challenge for legal reasons.

He said the move was "not unusual" as it concerned a "highly litigious area of policy".

Migrants at the Manston centre
Migrants at the Manston centre. Picture: Getty

Detention Action's pre-action letter, sent by Duncan Lewis solicitors, said the woman, who is from a non-European country, "was unlawfully detained by the Home Secretary at the Manston facility in egregiously defective conditions".

The complaint also includes "serious threats to the safety of children", the charity said.

Concerns raised by the woman and the charity about the site near Ramsgate include "the routine prolongation of detention beyond statutory time limits; failure to adhere to essential safeguarding measures for children; women and children sleeping alongside adult men to whom they are unrelated; inadequate or non-existent access to legal advice for those detained; and exposure to infectious diseases due to overcrowding and poor sanitation", the charity said.

Migrants at the Manston immigration centre in Kent
Migrants at the Manston centre. Picture: Getty

Its deputy director James Wilson said: "We have taken this action out of serious concern for the welfare of thousands of people, including children, still being detained at Manston for periods far beyond legal limits.

"We are calling on the Home Secretary to declare that anyone held at Manston for more than 24 hours is being detained unlawfully.

"We are also asking that the Home Secretary allow access to the facility for organisations qualified to provide support in immigration detention settings."

Later, BID, represented by law firm Leigh Day, also challenged "the unlawful failure to provide access to outside support".

People thought to be migrants arriving in Manston
People thought to be migrants arriving in Manston. Picture: Alamy

Read more: Suella Braverman 'booed by migrants' after visiting camps in a military helicopter

Read more: 'We really need your help': Migrant children throw letter over wall begging for help to escape 'prison'

It asks Ms Braverman to "immediately provide legal advice surgeries at Manston and to help people at the centre to access legal advice", the charity said.

BID legal director Pierre Makhlouf said: "People are being denied access to their legal right to apply for bail before an independent court, a process that would allow inquiry into their needs including their ability to access accommodation and support.

"Individuals need to be allowed to exercise their rights and the courts need to be allowed to consider cases of people in these circumstances.

Migrants carry a smuggling boat on their shoulders as they prepare to embark
Migrants carry a smuggling boat on their shoulders as they prepare to embark. Picture: Getty

"Keeping people in appalling conditions, dumping people on the streets without support and withholding information on their right to access legal rights is an inhuman approach towards those in need of compassion, and results in a breach of the legal standards the UK has set for itself."

The Home Office confirmed it had received a letter and would be responding in due course, adding that it did not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

A spokesman said: "Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible."

Migrants sail after boarding a smuggler's boat
Migrants sail after boarding a smuggler's boat. Picture: Getty

It comes after Ms Braverman was booed by migrants at the overcrowded Manston migration centre, according to reports, after visiting in a military helicopter.

She visited the site and the Dover migrants centre on Thursday in a Chinook military helicopter - despite the two facilities being just twenty miles from each other.

And as she arrived in Manston, boos could be heard ringing out from the centre, the Mail Online reported.

A migrant carries a child as he runs to board a smuggler's boat on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France on October 12, 2022
A migrant carries a child as he runs to board a smuggler's boat. Picture: Getty

The government has defended the decision to fly in the helicopter, saying it was necessary for Ms Braverman to see operations in the English Channel.

The number of migrants coming to the UK via channel in dangerous small boats has risen sharply in recent years, with 50,000 expected by the end of this year alone.Ms Braverman confirmed steps are being taken to "immediately" improve the situation on the ground, according to the Home Office.

These include bolstering the medical facilities currently on-site, supplying extra bedding and improved catering facilities, and providing more activities to support migrant welfare.