An inspection of the Home Office’s response to in-country clandestine arrivals

2020 November 12: Inspection report published: An inspection of the Home Office’s response to in-country clandestine arrivals (‘lorry drops’) and to irregular migrants arriving via ‘small boats’

The inspection examined the Home Office’s identification and handling of migrants first encountered away from a port of entry, having entered the UK concealed in a commercial vehicle, and those migrants seeking to cross the English Channel in ‘small boats’.

From:Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

Publishing the report, David Bolt said:

A lot has happened and much has changed since I sent my completed report on clandestine arrivals to the Home Secretary in March. However, I believe that the key findings and recommendations from the report remain valid.

In 2016, when I looked at the Home Office’s response to the sharp increase in encounters with migrants who had entered the UK concealed in lorries, I found that while front-line staff had coped well with the extra demands it had been at the expense of other enforcement priorities, to the extent that in some areas little other operational activity had been conducted. In approaching this inspection, a key question was whether the response to the surge in ‘small boats’ was having a similar impact on other parts of the Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System.

In short, inspectors found that it was. Border Force’s Maritime Command, the General Aviation/General Maritime Team based in Folkestone, Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigation directorate, and the Joint (BICS and police) Debriefing Team, were all heavily occupied with ‘small boats’, as was UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Kent (Asylum) Intake Unit. Some staff in these teams, as well as other agencies, expressed concerns about what was being missed as a result.

The Home Office has contended that the emergence in late-2018 of ‘small boats’ as a favoured means of illegal entry was a consequence of the extensive investment over recent years, in collaboration with the French authorities, in strengthening security at and around the ports in northern France. But, while this may have made unaided clandestine entry harder, it is the case that the number of ‘lorry drop’ migrants encountered in the UK increased in 2019 by a third over the previous year, and organised smuggling of large groups concealed in road transport continues, often with casual disregard for the risks to the migrants’ health and welfare, as evidenced by the discovery of the bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants in a refrigerated trailer at Purfleet, Essex, in October 2019.

Overall, up until March 2020, there were no signs of the threat of clandestine entry reducing and recent evidence pointed in the other direction. While the Home Office had shown some agility in marshalling and reprioritising resources in response, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that it has neither the capacity nor the capabilities, in particular in respect of criminal investigation and prosecution, required to manage this threat more effectively.

I have made five recommendations. These touch on skills, organisation and processes, partnership-working, data and analysis, and staff management. None offers a “quick fix”, nor do they seek to address wider questions of “pull factors” and calls for more legal and safe routes, which were not the focus of this inspection.

While it has taken eight months to publish my report, I take some encouragement from the Home Office’s response. This refers to the actions it has already taken, including the appointment of a Clandestine Channel Threat Commander to lead on clandestine entry. It also identifies an extensive body of work that is in hand in the department and with partner agencies. The latter will require significant ongoing commitment and effort, but the present situation is unsustainable so there is no real choice if the improvements in operational capacity and capabilities needed to reduce organised immigration crime are going to be achieved.

The Home Office should:

4.1 Carry out a fundamental review of the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System’s criminal investigation and prosecution capabilities and capacity, looking at clandestine entry (incorporating people smuggling, trafficking and modern slavery) and other immigration‑related crimes, and revisiting with the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA), and others if appropriate, where the underlaps are at National Intelligence Model (NIM) Levels 1, 2 and 3.

4.2 Review the roles and responsibilities of the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS) teams involved in responding to ‘lorry drops’ and ‘small boats’ with a view to reducing the number of “hand offs” and requirements for staff to travel large distances or to be on detached duty from their normal place of work, including by:
a. conducting a skills audit and training needs analysis, with the aim of creating efficiencies
and greater resilience through more multi-skilling;
b. considering whether the Midlands Intake Unit should operate in the same way as the Kent Intake Unit in terms of receiving migrants directly from the police, and whether similar
facilities are required in any other regions.

4.3 Work with the National Police Chiefs Council to create joint plans for the monitoring and ‘policing’ of the whole of the UK coastline (including ports and harbours) for the smuggling of people and goods and related criminal activities, integrating Border Force/Immigration Enforcement priorities, resources and functions, including intelligence collection, with those of coastal police forces.

4.4 Produce a detailed monthly analysis of clandestine entry attempts detected at the juxtaposed controls and at UK ports, and ‘failures’ (vehicles later identified in connection with lorry drops), and the factors over which Border Force had control, including staffing levels, targeted vehicles, and search techniques used, (ensuring that the information provided by frontline staff is specific and complete), and use this analysis to identify the resources and tactics required to drive up detections and reduce lorry drop numbers.

4.5 Engage the Cutter and Coastal Patrol Vessel (CPV) crews in an open consultation exercise to review and address any concerns about their terms and conditions, training opportunities and career paths, providing them with as much clarity as possible about future plans for the Maritime Command. In the meantime, ensure that all crew members have the personal equipment they need to perform their duties effectively and safely and that Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are comprehensive and updated in line with events.