Hungry and confused asylum seekers from war-torn east Africa have been found sleeping rough in central London after the Home Office removed scores of people from the Manston immigration processing centre in Kent without offering replacement shelter.
At least 18 asylum seekers are now believed to have slept on the streets this week after at least two buses left them at Victoria station, forcing three charities and two councils to provide emergency help.
Seven of the “highly vulnerable people” from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt and Kuwait with no family or friends in the UK spent two nights outdoors. They are now being helped by the charity Crisis, whose chief executive, Matt Downie, accused the Home Office of causing “sheer confusion”.
They were among asylum seekers – including some from Afghanistan and Syria – bussed from Kent to London after the home secretary, Suella Braverman, ordered people to be moved after outrage over conditions including cold, overcrowding and disease.
On Friday, amid ongoing pressure on Braverman to get a grip on the crisis at Manston, the home office minister, Chris Philp, was accused of “callous complacency” by the Liberal Democrats after he said: “If people choose to enter a country illegally, and unnecessarily … it’s a bit of a cheek to then start complaining about the conditions.” The overcrowded centre, which housed more than 4,000 people, uses marquees for sleeping accommodation and there have been reports of outbreaks of diphtheria and Covid.
A Downing Street spokesperson distanced the prime minister from Philp’s remark, saying: “Those individuals deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.”
The immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, was heckled by some residents when he visited Dover on Friday. Almost 40,000 people have arrived in the UK this year after crossing the Channel in small boats.
On Thursday, a separate group of 11 people wearing wrist tags and bearing paperwork from Manston were found on the streets in Westminster. They are believed to have been dropped off on Tuesday.
Four did not want to engage with the council or its rough sleeping teams and left. Seven were put up in hotels. On Friday the council was working to get the group to Lunar House in Croydon, a Home Office immigration processing centre, to be assessed by officials, where, according to Downie, some have been told to approach Crisis’s Croydon office for accommodation.
“We have been trying to get people help and trying to get them housing and support and trying to find out why on earth the Home Office is referring people to us given that they have a responsibility for these people,” he said.
Others who were dropped in Westminster by coach this week with no accommodation, some of whom were wearing flip-flops, were later shipped on to Norwich after being helped by volunteers from the charity Under One Sky. One said: “I thought there was going to be a hotel for us. [The coach driver] said: ‘Go anywhere you want to go, it’s not my responsibility.’”
Norwich city council said the Home Office had not given it any warning that they were coming early on Thursday morning. “We don’t know who they are and we don’t know where they’ve gone to in the city,” said Stephen Evans, the council’s chief executive.
Mick Clarke, the chief executive of the Passage, a charity that works with Westminster council, said it was “shocked” to find people from Manston sleeping rough and has demanded an urgent government review “of how this has happened, as this terrible situation cannot be repeated”. It found hotels for seven people.
The Westminster council leader, Adam Hug, on Friday accused the Home Office of “descending into panic”.
“The chaos that is engulfing the arrival centre at Manston is now impacting on councils across the country,” he said. “It is not acceptable that people seeking asylum in the UK are effectively dumped at a coach station and left to fend for themselves. We need a more humane and, frankly, better-organised response.
People forced to sleep rough after being removed from Manston described “awful” conditions at the immigration centre, Downie said.
“They were pleased to be on a bus, warm,” he said. “They thought they were going to be provided with housing or accommodation in London. The people we saw had no family and friends in the UK.”
After two nights on the streets, five were put up in hotels and two in specialist accommodation with hosts. “People don’t know what they are entitled to and we don’t know what the Home Office is planning to do for them,” Downie said.
The Home Office has said: “The welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance and asylum seekers are only released from Manston when we have assurances that they have accommodation to go to. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”