Updated 16 December 2021: HM Chief Inspector of Prisons: Report on an unannounced inspection of the detention of migrants at Dover and Folkestone Detention facilities: Tug Haven, Kent Intake Unit and Frontier House by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 8 October and 1–3 November 2021
This report covers inspections of the detention facilities at Tug Haven and Kent Intake Unit (KIU) in Dover, and Frontier House in Folkestone. The facilities mainly held people who had arrived from France on small boats after undertaking sea crossings from France. Several hundred people arrived at Tug Haven during the inspection and most went directly to immigration removal centres (IRCs) or hotel or hostel accommodation. The Home Office did not keep data on the length of time people spent at Tug Haven, but about 2,000 people, including over 700 unaccompanied children, had been held at KIU or Frontier House in the previous three months for an average of more than 26 hours. The longest detained person was held for over four days and the longest detained child had been held for over 90 hours.
Our last inspection in September 2020 found that these facilities were badly equipped to meet their purpose. Detainees were experiencing unacceptably poor conditions and important safeguarding processes had broken down. Poor contingency planning meant that there was not an effective response to the fluctuating numbers of arrivals. Following that inspection, we were assured by the Home Office that rapid action would be taken to improve both strategic planning and the conditions in which detainees were held. However, despite some limited progress, detainees, including large numbers of unaccompanied children, continued to experience very poor treatment and conditions.
A new marquee at Tug Haven now gave arriving migrants better cover from the elements and there was enough dry clothing and food. However, many people, including families with young children, spent over 24 hours in tents with no sleeping facilities.
The main holding room at KIU remained inadequate. The facility could comfortably hold a small number of people for a few hours but was wholly unsuitable for its intended capacity of 56 people, who could be held for several days. Detainees were confined to a permanently lit room without access to fresh air or even the chance to look outside because of the frosted windows. We observed 40 people in the holding room, barely able to move and unable to rest properly after exhausting journeys. Records showed that others had recently been held there for three to four days. There was only one shower at KIU, and detainees were not always told that it was available.
While KIU was now intended to hold only unaccompanied minors or people whose age was disputed, adult men, women, families and unaccompanied children were regularly held together in the same facility and had resulted in significant safeguarding concerns. For example, during our inspection, an adult male ex-offender considered to pose a medium risk of harm to the public was held together with unrelated children.
Detention staff reported that the poor conditions in the crowded facility and extended detention had led to a great deal of distress and frustration among detainees. Detainees did not have access to their own phones and had generally inadequate phone access to contact family, friends or lawyers after arrival.
It was positive that KIU now had sufficient social workers and 24-hour health care. However, the social workers were contracted for age-dispute cases only and their skills were underused in an environment where safeguarding was an ongoing concern for many other children and some vulnerable adults.
Overall, despite some improvements from a very low base, we found conditions that were at times completely unsatisfactory, and ongoing weaknesses in Home Office governance and systems of accountability and safeguarding. A new replacement facility at the Western Jet Foil was not due to be fully operational until June-July 2022 despite an initial plan for it to be open by the end of August 2021 Home Office leaders also told us of appropriate plans for an improved new KIU facility and up to a thousand triage places in accommodation at different sites around Dover, which could be used flexibly to meet needs. However, these facilities were not due to open until spring/summer 2022.
It is unclear why there had been such delays following the assurances that we were given by the Home Office after our last inspection. Leaders told us of difficulties in coordinating the various partners whose cooperation was required, but this was not a sufficient explanation for why, one year later, we still found people being held for even longer in conditions that were so inadequate.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, November 2021
Note: The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has commenced an inspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats at Tug Haven. This inspection will focus on the security checks performed to protect the border, and the identification and safeguarding of vulnerable people. The inspection team anticipate reporting to the Home Secretary by February. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/an-inspection-of-migrants-arriving-via-small-boats-at-tug-haven
Vulnerable people are still being kept in cold, cramped, makeshift facilities
The Home Office’s treatment of newly-arrived people has been exposed in a new report, which shows failures at three short-term immigration detention holding facilities in Dover.
For many asylum seekers making the perilous journey across the Channel – often fleeing war and discrimination – the UK offers the prospect of a safe haven. However, as a new report reveals today, their first contact with the country is not as welcoming as many will have hoped.
The report – based on visits by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP) and the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) in October and November this year – reveals that asylum seekers are forced to sleep in cold, cramped, unsuitable conditions, while vulnerable women and children are not being properly safeguarded.
Noting that many of the concerns raised in today’s report had been flagged previously in a September 2020 investigation, Bridget Chapman from Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) said that the Government’s apathy towards the conditions suffered by asylum seekers is “starting to look like deliberate performative cruelty”.
29 July 2021: Guardian: MPs decry ‘shocking conditions’ at facilities for asylum seekers
Yvette Cooper, chair of home affairs committee, wrote to Priti Patel after visiting Kent sites on Tuesday
MPs have raised serious concerns about the “shocking conditions” they found in Kent holding facilities for asylum seekers, including an unaccompanied child housed in an office space for 10 days, and a girl forced to sleep on a sofa for days on end.
Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, has written to the home secretary following a committee visit on Tuesday when MPs saw asylum seekers held in cramped, unsafe and “completely inappropriate” facilities.
Cooper described how they found 56 people crammed into a small, unventilated waiting room before they were assigned an onward placement. There was no social distancing, or mask wearing, and it was hard to see how it was Covid-safe, she said.
“Most people were sitting or lying on a thin mattress and those covered almost the entirety of the floor including the aisles between seats. Sharing these cramped conditions were many women with babies and very young children alongside significant numbers of teenage and young adult men,” she said in her letter to Priti Patel.
The MPs also visited the Atrium facility – “essentially an office space with a large central room and several adjoining offices” – where asylum seekers were held while awaiting ongoing travel, often for several days at a time and in some cases for up to 10 days.
Cooper said the Home Office had confirmed to the committee that one of the individuals held in the Atrium facility for over 10 days was an unaccompanied child. They also said: “One girl was sleeping on a sofa in an office, as the only available separate sleeping accommodation. For children, this kind of accommodation for days on end is completely inappropriate.”
28July 2021: Guardian: The Guardian view on Channel migrants: people, not political props
The RNLI has moral justice on its side when reasserting its humanitarian mission to provide sea rescue without discrimination
Viewed from Downing Street, the problem of migrant boats crossing the Channel involves a conflict between a humanitarian obligation and political pressure for closed borders. But at sea level there is no dilemma. Once people have already taken to the water and found themselves in difficulty, politics yields to ethics and the duty to save lives.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is a historic embodiment of that ethos. Its volunteer mariners do not interrogate the motives that led people to the sea before fishing them out. Nor should they. The RNLI’s founding mission is to help without discrimination, and it has made clear that it will not adapt that code to satisfy political frustrations at the volume of migrants attempting entry to Britain by boat. That traffic (though far lower than elsewhere) has, inevitably, meant lifeboat crews sometimes stepping in where the coastguard has not reached imperilled vessels. Those cases account for as many as half of the RNLI’s Channel launches.