Inside UK’s broken asylum system where migrants are self-harming

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Chaotic and desperate conditions have been unearthed at a controversial migrant processing centre, where asylum seekers who engaged in self-harm were restrained with handcuffs. The population at Manston reached 4,000 people in October, and there were reported incidents of violence over food and overcrowding.

Documents obtained by Liberty Investigates, a branch of the Liberty civil rights charity, through freedom of information laws reveal that staff at the former military base in Kent locked up detainees in “cell vans” and restrained them.

The first set of accounts given by guards and published by the Independent reveal the following about the conditions:

  • Thousands of individuals being housed in a makeshift tent and sleeping on mats on the floor, with no activities or purpose while being held indefinitely
  • Detainees were physically subdued and beaten after they banged their heads against a wall. Migrants being forcibly controlled after they requested food.
  • A person hurt in a fight receiving inadequate medical attention due to the assumption that they were pretending to be injured.

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These disclosures come as the immigration system is under immense pressure, with over 45,000 asylum seekers residing in hotels and a backlog of over 140,000 pending claims.

Rishi Sunak has promised to introduce new legislation aimed at “stopping the boats” in the near future, and he is still pushing for the Rwanda plan.

However, opponents argue that the government’s previous deterrents have been ineffective, and that it must establish safe and lawful options instead of the perilous crossings through the Channel.

In January, nearly 1,200 migrants arrived in small boats, leading to the regular use of Manston after the government lowered the legal standards for detention limits, conditions, and healthcare.

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During the height of the overcrowding crisis in October, several accounts describe the use of handcuffs on migrants who were banging their heads against walls.

One individual was physically subdued, struck with an elbow, and restrained with leg shackles.

The records of these incidents were created by custody staff and immigration officers following the “use of force” events.

Multiple forms highlight the high levels of tension within the crowded makeshift tents that were hastily built to accommodate migrants, sometimes for weeks, due to the Home Office’s inability to provide sufficient housing.

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At that time, thousands of individuals were sleeping on mats on the floor while they were being held indefinitely with limited activities, no access to mobile phones, and restricted communication with the outside world.

The conditions, according to a representative of the ISU union, which represents Border Force employees, “contributed to the psychological state that leads to persons self-harming.”

ISU spokesperson Lucy Moreston said: “It also leads to things like stealing food, rushing doors, organised unrest,

“All of that comes from and is driven by being restrained in conditions which are not designed to meet basic human needs.”

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