The Manston asylum processing center caught up in an overcrowding controversy is now empty, the UK government has said. However, it appears that migrants are still being processed at the site. According to official figures, no new small boat arrivals via the Channel were recorded since November 14.
The Manston processing center in southeast England where people arriving in the UK in small boats were taken for initial checks is apparently completely empty. The announcement, which the British government made on Tuesday (November 22), comes after a week of no new migrants making the trip across the Channel from France.
Responding to questions about Manston, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman on Tuesday said the site "by design is meant to be a temporary holding facility, where people are processed before moving on."
"Obviously there were immediate challenges, particularly after the attack at the other center, which caused numbers to spike," he added. "So you would expect numbers to be relatively low on a daily basis as people are moved through quickly."
The spokesperson was referring to an incident from late October, when firebombs were thrown at another reception facility in Dover, leading to some relocations to Manston, AFP reported. British police called the arson attack a "terrorist incident" motivated by "extreme right-wing" ideology. The 66-year-old suspected assailant was later found dead.
Moreover, a man who was being held in the Manston facility died on Saturday (November 19). He is believed to have crossed the English Channel in a small boat. The cause of his death is still being investigated.
Earlier this month, the Home Office faced criticism after reports said some 4,000 people were being held at Manston in appalling conditions. It is meant to hold just 1,600, leading to concerns about human rights abuses at the site. A record 42,000 migrants have been intercepted and brought ashore so far this year, testing the country's ability to process and house the new arrivals.
Processing still ongoing
According to a government spokesperson, Home Office staff worked hard to quickly find "alternative accommodation" for asylum seekers who were already processed at Manston.
"There are currently no people being accommodated on-site, and improvements continue to be made to the site to ensure it remains well-resourced to process migrants safely and securely," the spokesperson said.
However, the facility remains open and will still be used as required to conduct initial checks on arriving migrants, UK media reports stated. AFP said it did not receive an immediate confirmation from the Home Office regarding this issue.
The growing numbers were putting "an unprecedented and unsustainable strain on our asylum system," the spokesperson added. They also said that government officials kept a focus on deterring irregular migration and "disrupting the criminal gangs responsible for these dangerous crossings."
According to AFP, the spike in arrivals has also caused a long logjam in the processing of asylum claims. Last week, The Guardian reported, citing British refugee council figures, that more than 40,000 people seeking asylum in the UK have waited between one and three years for a decision. This indicates that there's both a logjam and a backlog.
The spike in arrivals has moreover increased accommodation costs estimated by the UK government at €7.9 million (£6.8 million) a day, AFP reported, straining local services and fueling public anger.
No new arrivals since November 14
Official figures show that no new arrivals were recorded since November 14 by the defense ministry, which since April has been spearheading the operational response to small boat migration in the English Channel, AFP reported.
That day, 400 migrants arrived on eight boats, according to the ministry's statistics.
The drop in arrivals coincides with a period of bad weather, which according to AFP presumably deterred people from attempting to make the crossing.
The UK last week agreed to pay France an additional €72.2 million to prevent crossings by means of an increase in patrols along the English Channel. The payment was part of a new deal seen as a sign of improving ties between the neighbors.