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Lords question need for new category of migrant detention facility for Manston with reduced amenities and safeguards

25 January 2023

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has published a report after considering the Short-term Holding Facility (Amendment) Rules 2022.

The Rules create a new category of short-term immigration detention facility known as the Residential Holding Room (RHR) in which migrants can be held for a maximum of four days. This new RHR category is intended to apply to Manston, Kent which is the UK’s main reception point for people crossing the English Channel on small boats.

However, there is already legislation in place governing migrant detention facilities that allow a maximum stay of five days. These facilities have to provide a minimum standard of rights and amenities. Many of these requirements have been disapplied or weakened for the new RHR category, despite the very similar maximum holding period, including: the right to send and receive correspondence; the unconditional right to meet in confidence with a legal adviser; internet access; and a compulsory medical screening being carried out within 2 hours of admission no matter the circumstances. The overall effect of these is that the facilities and amenities available to people who may be detained for four days are materially lower than those deemed necessary for people who may be detained for five days.

The Committee noted a joint submission from the organisations Medical Justice, Freedom from Torture, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Rainbow Migration, JRS UK, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Detention Action, which said that the Rules “constitute a dangerous withdrawal of the safeguards that apply to detained people, and a deeply concerning downgrading of the conditions in which they are held”.

Other areas of concern highlighted by the Committee in the report were the lack of any consultation prior to the Rules coming into force, whether the Rules would apply across any other sites and whether, given its history, Manston will be able to operate within the law even under the new Rules.

The Home Office told the Committee the new Rules would mean improving the standards at Manston relative to their current level (where the maximum allowed stay is 24 hours) and that they balanced the need for efficient operation of the site with the immediate healthcare and vulnerability concerns of any individuals. The Department also confirmed that the new RTR category is currently only intended to apply to Manston. None of this information allayed the Committee’s concerns.

In conclusion, the report finds the Home Office has not provided an adequate policy justification for creating the new category or consulted on it. Nor has it explained why the amenities available for a four-day stay should be less than for a five-day stay.

The report recommends the House may wish to press the Minister for a better explanation of how the welfare of these migrants is to be safeguarded, how Manston will operate in the future and why potentially contentious legislation was brought into effect over a recess.

Lord Hutton of Furness, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said;

“The Home Office told us that these new Rules would balance the need for efficient and effective operation of the facility at Manston with the healthcare and vulnerability needs of detainees. However, this response fails to allay our disquiet about the issues we and other organisations who made submissions to us have raised. Simply put, the Home Office has not explained why the balance should be struck in a way that provides fewer protections for migrants detained for four days compared to those detained for five.

“There was no consultation conducted before the Rules were introduced. Instead, the Home Office has admitted that the changes are needed because Manston cannot operate appropriately within the existing regime and requires its own “bespoke” arrangements.

“It seems obvious that the new category is designed for the operational convenience of the Home Office, rather than for good reasons of public policy. It appears that the main consideration is facilitating the continued operation of Manston even though its conditions have raised public concern. Given the history of Manston, however, we are concerned that even the new regime will not guarantee that the site is always able to operate within the law and have suggested the House may wish to get clearer information from the Minister in regard to this and other concerns raised.”

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