Dozens of asylum seekers who were recently moved out of Manston were left stranded outside Home Office centres after being invited to apparently phantom appointments and then turned away, the Guardian has learned.
The development comes exactly a month after 11 asylum seekers were left in the street close to London’s Victoria station after being moved out of Manston, the controversial reception centre for small-boat arrivals in Ramsgate, Kent.
Dozens of asylum seekers received a letter headed “Asylum and Protection Manston” from the Home Office, instructing them to attend asylum interviews on Thursday “to tell us about the reasons why you have claimed asylum in the UK”.
Many were invited to appointments at the Home Office’s visas and immigration headquarters at Lunar House in Croydon, and others to another centre in the Midlands.
The appointment letter states that if asylum seekers have concerns or queries they can contact the “above number”. But there is no phone number on the letter.
One man stranded outside Lunar House on Thursday was one of the group previously dumped at Victoria station after being released from Manston last month.
He arrived in the UK in October 2022 and spent 23 days at Manston. He slept rough at Victoria for two days after being abandoned there before being given a number for the helpline of Migrant Help, which works with the Home Office and organised hotel accommodation in Colchester for him.
“I am completely disappointed and frustrated that I could not do my interview today,” he said. “I am lost. The whole situation is inhumane. They could have just given me a text message or a phone call to tell me that my interview was cancelled. I feel like I am not being treated as a human. I have been through so much.”
He said there were more than 20 asylum seekers outside Lunar House who had appointment letters but who were turned away. “At Lunar House this morning it seemed like no one cared. We [the asylum seekers] said we would be happy to wait but we were told that was not possible. It felt like it was not a big deal to the Home Office that our interviews had been cancelled.”
A second asylum seeker said everyone standing outside was left feeling hopeless.
Many asylum seekers express frustration at having to wait two years or more before they receive an asylum interview appointment from the Home Office. So the group who received the appointment letter for Thursday were surprised but delighted that everything appeared to be progressing so quickly.
“It was a surprise for me to get my interview so fast, but I was really happy but I was excited because I thought that soon I would be able to start my life again,” the first asylum seeker said. “But now we’ve all been left in limbo.”
Usually the Home Office provides travel tickets for those attending official appointments, and the asylum seekers given appointments were expecting to receive those. But when this did not happen, some phoned the charity Care4Calais in a distressed state. Charity workers bought travel tickets for them to ensure they did not miss the appointments.
Hannah Marwood, a legal access manager at Care4Calais, said she and her colleagues were frantically trying to find lawyers to represent asylum seekers who contacted them on Wednesday about Thursday’s appointments.
“The people who contacted us for help yesterday had no legal representation and few had the means to get to their appointments, creating significant undue distress,” she said. “The level of disorganisation is astounding. With an asylum backlog now reaching over 120,000, the focus for the home secretary should be in fairly and efficiently processing people’s claims so they can get on with their lives as part of our communities.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment. Sources in the department said: “If a substantive asylum interview has to be rescheduled individuals can be assured there will be no impact on the outcome of their asylum case.”