March 12, 2023 7.00 am This story is over 15 months old

RAF Scampton: Home Office must avoid repeat of Manston scandal

The overcrowded site was shut down

By Local Democracy Reporter

Overcrowding, delays and disease – it is crucial that the Home Office learns from the lessons of the past as it proceeds with migrant camp plans at RAF Scampton.

The future of the retired airbase has been in the spotlight following plans to use it as a site to house people claiming asylum.

The backlog has spiralled out of control, topping 166,000 – a record high – in recent weeks.

The use of hotels in Skegness and Boston has proved controversial, prompting the Home Office to turn to one of Lincolnshire’s retired airbases, RAF Scampton.

However this large-scale detention centre will raise spectres of the government’s Manston migrant centre, which closed amid fears of overcrowding and disease.

Lessons to learn from Manston migrant centre

| Photo: Guardian News via YouTube

Manston, a former military base in Kent, became a national news story when it opened in February 2022 as a processing centre to deal with the growing number of migrants arriving in the UK via boats.

The plan was for migrants to be held there for short periods of time while security and identity checks took place – but the reality was far from this vision.

Home Office plans were for the site to have around 1,600 people passing through it each day, and for checks to be completed in under 24 hours.

However, a local Conservative MP visited the site in October to find that around 4,000 migrants were being kept in cramped conditions for long periods of time.

Claims were made that migrants had been sleeping on cardboard due to a lack of beds, prompting an outbreak of diphtheria at the centre.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

The Home Office said that a migrant who died in hospital on November 19, following a time being held at Manston, may have been a result of diphtheria – and just three days later the site was empty.

The emptying of Manston prompted a sharp rise in the use of hotels to house asylum seekers, with Skegness being a prominently used area for this scheme.

East Lindsey District Council, along with Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman, claimed that they weren’t given enough notice by the Home Office – similarly to the situation at Scampton.

This recent revelation at RAF Scampton is not the first time the Home Office have allegedly gone behind the backs of local authorities to push through their immigration policy plans – and it is imperative that the same mistakes aren’t made inside the base itself, should it go ahead.

Morton Hall: Home Office’s last RAF site turned detention centre in Lincolnshire

Morton Hall in Swinderby, near Lincoln. | Photo: Home Office

Lincolnshire has previous history with a former military base turning into an immigration centre, and the outcome was a damning one.

Morton Hall was originally an RAF Base before it was converted into a prison and opened in 1985. It was re-fitted to a semi-open women’s prison in 2001, but a decade later it became an immigration removal centre for those awaiting deportation.

A report from the Home Affairs Committee in 2019 found that the Home Office had been “utterly failing” in its responsibility to oversee safe and humane practices for those at the site.

It came after four detainees at the centre near Lincoln died in 2017, as well as 26-year-old Rubel Ahmed in 2014, and protestors held demonstrations calling for Morton Hall’s closure.

The government faced intense scrutiny at this time, as the then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd was barred from her 2018 attempts to deport a witness of one of these deaths before they could present evidence.

Morton Hall ceased operations as an immigration removal centre in July 2021 and was reverted back to a prison later that year.

While the situations at Morton Hall and RAF Scampton fall under different circumstances, the Home Office will be keen to ensure that scandals of this nature do not reemerge at Scampton.

Reaction to Scampton plans

The Home Office and Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s proposals have been widely condemned across the local community, not least by Lincolnshire MPs and councillors.

The village of Scampton – population 1,358 – would be smaller than the 1500 asylum seekers that will be housed at the RAF base.

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney called it “wrong” and vows not to support any government plans to house asylum seekers at RAF Scampton.

This has been echoed by Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh, who took to the House of Commons to claim that West Lindsey District Council were never informed of the Home Office’s plan.

Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh objected to the plans for asylum seekers at RAF Scampton | Photo: Parliament.TV

The news came just hours after West Lindsey District Council unveiled plans to purchase RAF Scampton as part of a £300 million redevelopment.

Leader of the council Owen Bierley said the site would be “unsustainable” for migrants, commenting: “Any suggestion that the site might be used, albeit on short or medium term, to house asylum seekers would immediately jeopardise those plans.”

Government contractor Serco, responsible for the housing of asylum seekers, is already advertising on Indeed for Housing Officers at the base.

There are suggestions that these proposals are not just an insult to the servicemen and women of RAF Scampton’s past, but also the local community of Scampton and surrounding villages and towns.

MyLocal Lincolnshire is the new home of The Lincolnite. Download the app now.