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Shut down Manston camp, and take the rest of the UK’s violent immigration system with it

We visited the Manston detention camp. It’s a complete reflection of the UK’s hostile environment.

03 Nov 2022

Action Against Detention and Deportations

Manston detention camp is a humanitarian disaster. The ‘short term’ holding facility in Kent, previously a military base, is currently being used to detain an estimated thousands of people who arrive in Britain via small boats, some for as long as 40 days or more. It recently gained public attention after the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration raised concerns about the “wretched conditions”, including overcrowding, extended detention and serious disease outbreaks. 

On Sunday 30 October, we visited the camp. Our group was made up of members of Action Against Detention and Deportations (AADD) – a coalition of anti-border groups including SOAS Detainee Support, Stop Deportations and Global Women Against Deportations, organising in opposition to the racist border regime in Britain. We saw first-hand the devastating reality of what those inside are experiencing. 

The situation at Manston is not a one-off mistake: it is the result of a series of deliberate political decisions made by the UK Home Office. And while the illegality of Manston camp has paved the way for widespread media critique, we cannot ignore that there are multiple other detention centres and immigration holding facilities across the country which, despite supposedly staying within the confines of the law, are equally violent in their treatment of the people detained there. Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has claimed that the site is simply “not operating correctly”. Yet for those of us who have seen what ‘correctly operating’ detention centres look like, the calls for freedom we heard on Sunday were all too familiar. 

In the last two decades, the introduction of deportation targets to ‘control’ immigration has triggered a wave of violent policies and practices by the Home Office, such as the use of scheduled and charter flights and the expansion of detention and reporting centres. The supposed ‘need’ to control certain populations draws legitimacy from a version of right-wing nationalism stemming from British imperialism. These racist rhetorics allow the normalisation of workplace raids, rough sleeper round-ups, right to rent checks, prevent procedures and forcing asylum seekers to attend reporting centres where they may be immediately detained without warning. 

“The Home Office is eroding the humanity of people who migrate to this country; using their bodies as battlegrounds for political warfare”

The 2022 Nationality and Borders Act was touted as a strategy to tackle so-called smuggling gangs and the ‘crisis’ of small boat arrivals. This legislation, steeped in racism and xenophobia, has functioned to further perpetuate hateful rhetoric of migrants as safety threats, and has been slammed internationally as inhumane and “criminalise people seeking safety”. From June 2021 to June 2022, 76% of asylum applicants were granted protection at initial application, so even by the UK government’s current flawed standards, the myth of ‘illegal asylum seekers’ expounded by backers of the Nationality and Borders Act does not hold up. 

On 31 October, when pressured to justify the dire situation at Manston, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman described the current immigration system as “out of control”, causing an “invasion” on the South Coast. The BBC invited Nigel Farage to contribute his concern at the ‘hotel rooms’ being booked for asylum seekers in castles in Cornwall. The system is corrupt and violent: an impoverished infrastructure for processing asylum claims and providing inadequate support for those during this process is thus obscured behind the headline-grabbing misrepresentation of asylum seekers as invaders leeching on a flimsy welfare state and incites hatred towards already vulnerable people.

It is against this political backdrop that we can see how situations like the one at Manston can come to be. The Home Office is eroding the humanity of people who migrate to this country; using their bodies as battlegrounds for political warfare. From restrictions on non-citizens’ access to healthcare, to ‘no recourse to public funds’ conditions which prohibit access to welfare support and push families into destitution, migrants to the UK are facing a catalogue of threats to their safety and wellbeing. It is therefore impossible to separate what is happening at Manston from the wider UK immigration system: one that is intentionally callous and increasingly violent.

On Sunday 6 November we are returning to Manston, and invite as many people as possible to join us to protest the appalling treatment of the people there. Amongst reports that the government intends to reduce the numbers of people at the site over the coming weeks, it is important that we are clear in our demands not just for an end to the overcrowding, but the complete closure of the camp and provision of safe accommodation and support for all people detained there. This is a humanitarian disaster, but it isn’t one that begins or ends with Manston detention camp. We believe that everyone has the right to move and settle in a place that makes them feel safe and fulfilled, and we will continue to resist until this becomes a reality. 

To find out more and to join the demonstration at Manston on Sunday 6 November, follow @sdetsup on Twitter. SOAS Detainee Support is a grassroots abolition group which attempts to break the isolation of immigration detention and supports people to take control of their cases and resist their imprisonment and deportation.

Action Against Detention and Deportation is a coalition of organisations, including SOAS Detainee Support, Global Women Against Deportations, Global Justice Now and others. We stand against deportations and detention as tools of hate, division and a racist state.