Home Office leaves asylum seekers from Manston stranded in central London

Exclusive: People who have been detained in central Kent left 'stressed and confused' at Victoria station for hours, some in flip flops

The Home Office left asylum seekers from the Manston immigration hub in central London without accommodation or warm clothing, as officials seek to ease the acute overcrowding, the Guardian can reveal.

A group of 11 asylum seekers from Manston were left at a Victoria train station on Tuesday night without shelter, without winter coats, many of them wearing flip-flops, according to volunteers with the homeless charity Under One Sky, which is providing them with emergency assistance. food and clothing supplies.

"They are stressed, distracted and completely confused," said Danial Abbas, a volunteer with the charity. The group, from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, some of them wrapped in blankets to keep warm, were confused about what to do, he said. "They are also very hungry."

About 50 asylum seekers from Kent were also removed from the bus by Victoria train station at around 11pm on Saturday, according to an eyewitness. “They were still on the road at midnight, trying to figure out what to do, where to go. They have no money, and are not even told where they are,” said the witness, an Afghan asylum seeker, who asked not to be named. He had been placed in a nearby dormitory for the past 14 months, and watched them arrive. "I was shocked. I tried to help; I showed them where to get free wifi, a seat and warm up at the station."

Hundreds of asylum seekers were swiftly removed from the Manston camp in the past two days amid strong criticism of overcrowded conditions at the immigration centre, where this weekend some 4,000 people were held in a location designed for 1,600 people.

The immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, said the number of people in Manston had dropped substantially on Tuesday, but late on Wednesday he acknowledged that there were still about 3,500 people at the centre. Appearing on ITV, he told Robert Peston: "We immediately understood this as we appreciated the scale of the challenge at the weekend, now it's dropping really fast and I expect we'll be down to an acceptable level in about seven days."

The eleven men left without accommodation on Tuesday told charity volunteers they had been taken from Kent to London earlier on Tuesday afternoon as part of a larger group of about 40 asylum seekers. Other members of their group had family members or friends they could call and live with, but 11 people were left by the station with nowhere to stay the night.

One of the men, a 29-year-old economics student from Iraq, said he had been detained in Manston for 21 days after arriving in Britain by boat. “There were so many people there. They feed, but only a little," he said. He said he was notified on Tuesday afternoon that he would be taken to London. “We were told we had to go to our family or friends. I have no family in England," he said.

When they arrived in London, he told the driver he had nowhere to go, but he was asked to get off the bus. He had no money of his own and was not funded by the Home Office. “I asked what I should do for tonight, it's cold. He said: You have to go.

Volunteers from the charity, which distributes food to homeless people on the streets of London, brought asylum seekers to Primark and spent more than £450 buying them gloves, thermal jackets, shoes and socks. The volunteers called the Home Office, which said there had been an "operational error". At 01:00 on Wednesday, eight hours after they were dropped on the street by the station, two taxis were sent to Victoria to pick up the 11 people and they were taken to Norwich, where they were placed in a hotel.

A UK Transport Police spokesman said staff were responding to reports of a group of asylum seekers seeking help at Victoria station at 10.33pm on Tuesday. "Officers engaged and liaised with charity partners, rail staff and government partners to help them find accommodation for the night," they said.

Abbas, from Under One Sky, said the unloading of people at the station may not have been a one-off incident. "A British Transport Police officer in Victoria told me it had been going on since Saturday - the refugee coach had just been dumped here," Abbas said.

Witnesses who saw a bus full of asylum seekers unloaded at Victoria station on Saturday night said no Home Office staff was available to help.

He said most of the asylum seekers appeared to be from Afghanistan, and they told him they had spent the last 10 days at the Home Office camp near Dover. “Each of them had a blue plastic bag full of their belongings, and a paper label on their wrist. They were cold and hungry. I went to the shop around the corner and bought them some cakes. I feel sorry for them – they ask me where they should go,” he said.

Some had relatives in Birmingham and Manchester, he said, but no money to travel there. Others can call friends in London, and leave the station area to find them. Around 1 am they had all disappeared. “They said they had been told there was no place for them in any hotel or hostel accommodation. I don't know where they all went," the witness said.

Clare Moseley, from refugee charity Care4Calais, said the Home Office has a duty to accommodate asylum seekers who do not have the means to support themselves. “They shouldn't leave people on the street. We have heard of another case of someone being taken from Manston to Southhampton, where there was no hotel room for them. It's really messed up and horrific."

On Wednesday the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said the government was facing "serious and escalating problems", adding: "We will ensure that we control our borders and we will always do so fairly and compassionately, because that is the right thing."

But Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "People are not supported with dignity, humanity and compassion."

Headquarters has been contacted for comment.

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