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Conditions for people detained in Kent after arriving in small boats remain very poor, reports find


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Children are being separated from their parents and victims of rape are not being properly supported, new reports into the detention of asylum seekers have found.

The documents reveal the conditions asylum seekers are subjected to at the Tug Haven and Kent Intake Unit facilities, both in Dover, where they are taken after crossing the Channel in small, unsafe boats.

Bridget Chapman from Kent Refugee Action Network talks about the issues

In some cases, those with serious injuries are not being treated.

The poor conditions at the Dover processing centres - as well as at Frontier House in Folkestone - come despite Home Office assurances that it would make significant improvements.

And Bridget Chapman from Kent Refugee Action Network said the facilities at the Dover port also lack showers and proper beds for people to sleep, which starts becoming uncomfortable to anyone staying there for more than a couple of hours.

"These are people that have had an extremely traumatic journey. They're often hypothermic or semi hypothermic.

"It is totally unacceptable to keep people in those conditions," she added.

The two reports looking into the centres have been published by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons, which made unannounced inspection visits to migrant detention facilities in October and November 2021, and from The Dover and Heathrow IMB (Independent Monitoring Boards), which made observations in October 2021.

The concerns were such 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.

The Tug Haven at Dover Western Docks where rescued asylum seekers are first brought
The Tug Haven at Dover Western Docks where rescued asylum seekers are first brought
Inside the marquee at the Tug Haven facility. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons
Inside the marquee at the Tug Haven facility. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

“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 the initial point of entry at Tug Haven now gave arriving asylum seekers better cover from the elements and there was enough dry clothing and food.

The family area in the facility at Tug Haven. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons
The family area in the facility at Tug Haven. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

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 also 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.

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 Tug Haven on the “least busy day” between October 8 and 11 when, nevertheless, 400 people slept there overnight.

They found asylum seekers 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, were also being held at Tug Haven overnight, and safeguarding concerns both there and at other Kent detention facilities were raised.

There was also evidence of an increasing number of injuries among migrants - including fuel burns and cuts and bruises to feet - which were not being picked up at Tug Haven and which also had the potential to be missed at the Kent Intake Unit (KIU) and Frontier House.

Some people have to sleep on flimsy mattresses on the floor. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons
Some people have to sleep on flimsy mattresses on the floor. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

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.

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.

Commenting on the IMB 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.”

This year, more than 25,000 people have made the journey across the Channel to seek asylum. It is more than triple the 2020 figure.

Last month, 27 people drowned after the boat carrying them from France to the UK capsized.

A new Borders and Nationality Bill was passed last week, which promises to stop people crossing the Channel.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Last month’s tragedy is a devastating reminder of the dangers of Channel crossings and that’s why we are overhauling our broken asylum system to protect lives and ensure people smugglers can’t profit from this crime.

“We take the welfare of people in our care extremely seriously and since these inspections we have continued to improve facilities and are opening new secure facilities.

“The New Plan for Immigration is the only long-term solution to reform the system and build one which is fair on those who play by the rules, and firm on those who do not.”

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