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Cross Channel migrants, some very vulnerable still held in poor conditions- new report says

Conditions for migrants detained on the Kent coast after arriving in small boats remain very poor despite Home Office assurances that they would make significant improvements, according to prisons inspectors and independent monitors.

Inspectors and independent monitors, who separately visited the facilities, were concerned that unaccompanied children were held with unrelated adults. Inspectors also found that women who said they had been raped by smugglers were not adequately supported. Independent monitors learned that injuries, including serious burns, were not picked up by staff or properly treated.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published a report on unannounced inspection visits in October and November 2021. The Dover and Heathrow IMBs are, at the same time, publishing their observations in October 2021, which were of such concern that the national IMB Chair, Dame Anne Owers, referred them to Home Office Ministers.

In his report, Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Our last inspection in September 2020 found that these facilities were badly equipped to meet their purpose.

“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 (in 2021) to experience very poor treatment and conditions.

“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.”

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.

Men, women, families and unaccompanied children were regularly held together in the same facility, causing significant safeguarding concerns. Inspectors were concerned by inadequate follow-up care for two women who said they had been raped and another who said she had been sold into domestic servitude.

Commenting on the Boards’ reports, Dame Anne Owers said, “IMBs have continued to raise very serious concerns about the conditions and treatment of cross-Channel detainees, both on initial arrival and on the subsequent journey through the detention system, culminating in the events described in these reports.  It is clear that urgent action is required.”

Read Dame Anne Owers’ letter to the Home Office.

The Dover IMB, which monitors the Kent Channel detention facilities, said they were “extremely concerned about the continuing – and worsening – conditions in Dover, believing these should be highlighted as a matter of urgency.” Independent monitors visited the Tug Haven on the “least busy day” between 8 and 11 October – when, nevertheless, 400 slept there overnight.

They found:

  • A promised new facility, the Western Jetfoil, had fallen behind schedule.
  • Migrants faced being held in increasingly cold conditions. The IMB was concerned about temperatures on double-decker buses at Tug Haven sometimes used for sleeping.
  • Children (including toddlers and babies) and people who appeared vulnerable being held at the Tug Haven overnight, and safeguarding concerns both there and at other Kent detention facilities.
  • Evidence of an increasing number of injuries amongst migrants – including fuel burns and cuts and bruises to feet – which were not being picked up at the Tug Haven and which also have the potential to be missed at the KIU and Frontier House. One 16-year-old girl who had fuel burns on her legs and had been at Tug Haven for two days wearing wet clothes did not have her injuries detected until she was admitted to the KIU. By this time the seam of her clothes had become embedded into the burns and a medic reported that the girl was likely to be scarred for life.

Read the full IMB report on the Dover holding facilities published in October 2021.

Many of those detained at Dover were then moved to Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre (IRC). The centre lacked either the infrastructure or staff to support them.  Independent monitors at Heathrow found that, on one night, four coaches arrived and detainees had to sleep on the floor, without proper sanitary arrangements. The Heathrow IRC IMB described the conditions as “unacceptable and degrading but unavoidable, given the lack of regard to the centre’s ability to process arrivals”.

Read the letter from the IMB at Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre to the Home Office.

HM Inspectorate has also published a short report on residential short-term holding facilities (RRSTHFs), for those who are detained under immigration powers, at Larne House, Manchester Airport, and at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. The Yarl’s Wood section includes findings relating to migrants arriving at Dover.