4 April 2023: ICIBI: Please note the ICIBI’s intended inspection regime for the coming year: 2023-24
This includes Rwanda ‘Country of Origin’ information that guides the Home Office staff in decision-making, trafficking, contingency accommodation, treatment of people arriving by small boats, age assessments, and adults at risk in detention
Updates will appear below.
Updated 29 November 2023: The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has launched a new inspection of contingency asylum accommodation
In line with his 2023-24 inspection plan, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has commenced an inspection of the immigration system as it relates the Home Office’s use of contingency accommodation for asylum seekers.
Also: Completed inspections awaiting publication (awaiting release by the Home Secretary)
- Inspection report on Country of Origin Information – Thematic review of statelessness (26 April 2023)
- An inspection of the Home Office’s Afghan resettlement schemes (9 June 2023)
- A re-inspection of ePassport gates (16 June 2023)
- An inspection of the use of the powers to deprive British nationals of citizenship (24 July 2023)
- An inspection of contingency asylum accommodation for families with children in Northern Ireland (8 August 2023)
- A ‘spot check inspection’ of the Border Force operations at Portsmouth International Port (6 September 2023)
- An inspection of Border Force’s fast parcel operations (28 September 2023)
- An inspection of Border Force practices and procedures in relation to firearms (7 November 2023)
- A reinspection of the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (7 November 2023)
- An inspection of the Home Office’s illegal working enforcement activity (22 November 2023)
- An inspection of asylum casework
- An inspection of the immigration system as it relates to the social care sector
- An inspection on contingency asylum accommodation
Updated 24 June 2023: ICIBI: A re-inspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats, including at Western Jet Foil and Manston January – February 2023
In an inspection last year of the initial processing of arrivals at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil, I found that the Home Office’s performance in delivering an efficient and effective response to the challenge posed by the increasing volume of migrants arriving via small boats was poor. I therefore indicated my intention to carry out a reinspection of this area in my inspection plan for 2022-23.
Since my last inspection concluded in February 2022, much of the initial processing activity for small boat arrivals has been transferred to a new short-term holding facility at Manston. When I visited that site in October 2022, I found that the facility and its staff were at breaking point, with too many people being held there for too long, in conditions that were inadequate and unsafe. On 8 December 2022, I received a commission from the Home Secretary to include as part of my planned reinspection an assessment of the situation at Manston and of steps taken there to address concerns arising from my visit.
Overall, I was encouraged to find in this inspection that the performance of the Home Office has improved since my first inspection of operations at the port of Dover and since my visit to Manston. At the same time, the department must not succumb to complacency, as much work remains to be done. Systems and procedures for the initial processing of arrivals appeared to be working much better than during the previous inspection as a result of the shift to Manston, which has more space that can be used more flexibly than Western Jet Foil. However, it is highly doubtful that the facilities and processes in place at present would be sufficient to handle the large numbers of people expected over the coming weeks and months.
In light of the seriousness of the concerns I raised in my last inspection report and following my visit to Manston last autumn, it is worth highlighting the significant positive findings of this inspection. It was clear that considerable efforts have been made to improve the infrastructure and capacity for processing at Manston, and that real and tangible improvements have been implemented across a range of areas, including welfare support, initial health screening, and communications with migrants.
At the strategic level, I was pleased to see that the call I made, more than a year ago, for the Home Office to move from a crisis response to a steady-state response has been heeded. There is now an acceptance of the world as it is rather than as one might hope, which is a fundamental and hugely important change. Structures have been put in place that provide clear accountability and strong, visible leadership. Responsibility for the department’s small boats response now sits with senior officials who have the key skills and experience necessary to run an operation of this size, complexity, and importance to the country.
The challenge for the department now is to maintain and consolidate this progress, as the picture is not all positive, and serious risks remain. Though a relatively small number of arrivals was flowing smoothly through the Western Jet Foil and Manston sites at the time of this inspection, the capacity is not in place to process a large number of people arriving over a short period of time, particularly if – as might well be expected – sufficient onward accommodation is not immediately available. This difficulty is exacerbated by the lack of end-to-end ownership of the asylum process, with the officials responsible for the initial processing of small boat arrivals having no control over, or insight into, arrangements for accommodation for those leaving Manston. Further expansion plans, including the opening of a residential holding room facility where arrivals can be detained for up to 96 hours, are being implemented to build greater resilience, but these will take several months to become operational, and when they do, they will not have been tested by challenging numbers.
There remains a very real danger, then, that a shortfall in the capacity of the accommodation estate will see numbers in Manston build up, with a return of unacceptable conditions resembling those seen in October 2022. I have received no clear answer from senior officials as to where the 55,000 to 85,000 people expected to arrive in 2023-2024 will be accommodated. I do not think that anyone knows yet.
This is a considerable risk. The Home Office will therefore need to satisfy itself that it has contingency plans and risk mitigation measures in place to cope with increases in numbers.
Adequate staffing – a workforce that is appropriately qualified, trained, and led – will also be essential to meet the challenges of the coming months. While I was pleased to see that the staffing situation has improved since my first inspection, I am concerned that plans for further recruitment may be hampered by the inefficiency of Civil Service hiring processes and by the tightness of the labour market in the region. In its efforts to bring more staff on board, the Small Boats Operational Command is already in competition with other areas of the Home Office, with contractors, and with other employers for a limited pool of eligible potential workers. I do therefore worry that the department will be insufficiently agile to recruit and train the numbers it requires in order to respond safely and humanely to the volume of small boat arrivals that is expected over the medium term.
A very serious concern is that the data which the Home Office collects, and upon which it relies, as it carries out the initial processing of small boat arrivals, remains “inexcusably awful”, as I said in my last inspection report. Though data remains woeful, what has changed is a new command team who accepts this and is determined to bring some rigour and honesty to the realities of a really complex, challenging summer ahead. The collection and maintenance of consistent, accurate, and reliable data will be vital in underpinning a continued focus on the identification of vulnerable migrants – a focus that must be maintained even when numbers increase, pressure rises, and specialist staff are stretched.
More broadly, I worry that, having failed to transfer learning from the Penally/Napier experience to the development of the Manston facility, the Home Office may now fail to apply the lessons that it has learned, painfully slowly, from its experience at Manston to wider work now taking place to bring additional non-detained accommodation online and to expand the detained estate. The Home Office has a brief window of opportunity to draw together its hard-won experience into future accommodation solutions.
These areas of significant concern notwithstanding, I am encouraged by what I have seen in this inspection. I have witnessed at first hand grip, compassion, openness, a willingness to face up to reality, and a preparedness to speak truth to power. Vital elements that were not in place 12 months ago – including the development of comprehensive plans and a robust leadership framework – are now in evidence. While the forecast for arrival numbers for this year points to challenges ahead, I am more confident that the Home Office has started to get its act together. I intend to revisit Manston when it is busier and inspect its operations during 2023.
The elephant in the room is why has this taken so long to address. More than four years after small boats began arriving regularly on the south coast, there is only now any sense of the kind of planning and operational delivery I would expect to see.
This report makes three recommendations and was sent to the Home Secretary on 4 April 2023.
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
Recommendation 1 – Strategy
Publish a strategy for the Small Boats Operational Command/the processing of small boat
arrivals, covering Western Jet Foil and Manston, in consultation with stakeholders, which
a. the ongoing work to develop a 2024+ vision
b. clear exposition of the command and control of the operation, including clarity on responsibility, accountability, and authority (RA2)
c. the Manston Recovery Plan
d. the risks and mitigations to operations associated with high inflow (numbers of arrivals) and low outflow (insufficient asylum accommodation)
e. the resources required to deliver an effective operation, including staffing levels for contractors and for Home Office staff
f. clear milestones and deliverables
g. a robust process for review of the strategy
Recommendation 2 – Data
Develop a data strategy for the small boats operation which:
a. defines the data needs, including coverage of areas such as vulnerability, safeguarding, security, detention, and asylum screening onsite
b. assures the quality of data in line with government guidelines2
c. incorporates developments to IT systems to provide data that is accurate, consistent and
d. is supported by guidance for staff on recording, reporting, and sharing data internally
and with the appropriate agencies
Recommendation 3 – Training
Conduct a training needs analysis for SBOC operations to produce a comprehensive training and development plan. This should cover all existing and new staff and contractors, and incorporate:
a. vulnerability and safeguarding
b. security and intelligence
Read more here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1163013/A_re-inspection_of_the_initial_processing_of_migrants_arriving_via_small_boats__including_at_Western_Jet_Foil_and_Manston_January_to_February_2023.pdf
Link to the ICIBI website, and other reports: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/inspection-reports-by-the-independent-chief-inspector-of-borders-and-immigration#2022