Published: 08:42, 23 October 2020
| Updated: 08:53, 23 October 2020
A damning report has found a lack of basic provisions and a number of shortcomings in Kent's asylum seeker facilities.
During unannounced visits by inspectors, people were found to be kept in rooms for days which had no showers, sleeping facilities or access to open air.
The new findings were published by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons and focus on Tug Haven and Kent Intake Unit in Dover, Frontier House in Folkestone, Lunar House in Croydon and Yarl’s Wood in Bedford.
After noting that between June to August this year, about 2,500 people arrived at the Dover facility before being bailed or dispersed to other detention facilities, the report adds: "While the number of arrivals had been far higher in 2020 than in previous years, the reception arrangements at Tug Haven were not fit for even small numbers."
On Tug Haven, the author says it "resembled a building site". The report continued: "Detainees almost always arrived wet and cold, but then often had to spend hours in the open air or in cramped containers, before moving to another detention environment.
"Basic supplies, including dry clothing, ran out during the inspection and some detainees were placed on escort vehicles in wet clothes."
At the Kent Intake Unit (KIU) and Folkestone's Frontier House, "acceptable accommodation for short periods" was provided but "stays were prolonged".
"Some detainees were held for more than two days in rooms with no sleeping facilities, showers or access to the open air," the report said.
"KIU in particular was crowded and poorly ventilated. Social distancing was not possible and there were some basic omissions, such as not providing hand-washing facilities or even sanitiser in the women’s toilets."
Another issue that is particularly prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic was that not all asylum seekers had health screenings.
"Important processes had broken down..."
The report cites a lack of lockable toilets with seats and lids at Tug Haven and that "it was impossible to socially distance in the cramped containers".
Furthermore, interpreters were not used enough outside of initial interviews, meaning people were unaware of the next legal steps, bail conditions and even where they were in the UK.
Record-keeping and co-ordination of onward transport to nearby centres was poor and in one case a child was sent to a centre for adults.
Another statistic produced about the Kent facilities reads: "In the three months to the end of August 2020, there had been 142 incident reports completed at KIU and six at Frontier House.
"They mostly concerned medical issues but some related to mental health problems, pregnancy or, in a few cases, safeguarding concerns, such as sexual assault."
Concluding, the report finds "the detention facilities in Dover were very poorly equipped to meet their purpose and important processes had broken down".
The report issued a large number of recommendations to improve healthcare provision, record-keeping and safeguarding.
Another key recommendation was that the process should be sped up to stop unnecessary delays in the holding centres.
Despite the numerous issues found during the inspections, the Inspectorate of Prisons gave glowing reviews of staff members working at the facilities throughout the report.
It reads: "Mitie staff routinely used interpretation at KIU and Frontier House for initial interviews. Detainees also told us that they felt safe and that staff from all agencies at these facilities treated them with respect.
"We met detainees who had been extremely traumatised after their long journeys, and their positive feedback on the decency shown to them by many individual staff cannot be underestimated."
Later it adds: "Staff’s supervision of the holding rooms was good and they were responsive to potential problems – for example, staff responded quickly to raised voices at the queue for the shower at KIU and de-escalated a potentially volatile situation well."
The report frequently notes the good level of training among staff members in a number of areas.