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Home Office's asylum seeker processing in Dover criticised by David Neal, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

An inspection of processing centres found the Home Office’s response to increasing numbers of asylum seekers was 'poor'.

The inspection also found that data being collected at the centres was "inexcusably awful" and equipment was 'unreliable'.

Asylum seekers have been coming to Kent in dinghies regularly over the last four years
Asylum seekers have been coming to Kent in dinghies regularly over the last four years

The report focused on the Tug Haven site, which has since closed, along with the one at Western Jet Foil, both in Dover. This is where asylum seekers were taken after crossing the Channel.

In January, a new processing centre opened at a former Ministry of Defence site at Manston.

Expanded facilities are also due to open later this year at Western Jet Foil.

But David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, has now criticised the way asylum seekers are being cared for.

He said: "These migrants crossed the Channel in dire circumstances.

"Many were vulnerable and at risk, including children and women on their own, and when they arrived in Dover the way they were dealt with was unacceptable.

"This is because the Home Office has failed over the past three years to move from a crisis response to having better systems and procedures in place and treating this as business as usual.

"Data, the lifeblood of decision-making, is inexcusably awful.

"Equipment to carry out security checks is often first-generation and unreliable. Biometrics, such as taking fingerprints and photographs, are not always recorded."

The Tug Haven centre in Dover has now closed
The Tug Haven centre in Dover has now closed

Mr Neal said the Home Office told his inspectors that 227 asylum seekers had absconded from secure hotels between last September and January and not all had been biometrically enrolled.

Over a five week period alone, 57 asylum seekers had absconded - two-thirds of whom had not had their fingerprints and photographs taken.

He stressed: "Put simply, if we don’t have a record of people coming into the country, then we do not know who is threatened or who is threatening."

Mr Neal and his team found that to move migrants quickly through Tug Haven, effective safeguarding was sacrificed because of the large numbers from small boats coming into the country.

The inspection report said there was limited reflection by staff at all grades of the connection between vulnerability and security - that identifying a trafficking victim could feed the intelligence cycle and reveal intelligence about organised criminal gangs.

The ability of staff to identify and safeguard vulnerable migrants was also hindered by the fact that no interpreters were used in the procedures carried out at Tug Haven.

Many issues identified were also picked up in a separate inspection undertaken last year by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, which found that migrants were being held in unsatisfactory conditions, with weak Home Office systems relating to governance, accountability and safeguarding.

Mr Neal added that the Home Office team charged with responding to the crisis, the Clandestine Channel Threat Command, is pulled between day-to-day operations and developing a deterrent, as well as responding to the constant requests for strategic briefings.

David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. Picture: ICIBI
David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. Picture: ICIBI

The majority of its Campaign Plan objectives focus on strategic effects at the expense of delivering security and dealing humanely with the here and now. In simple terms, the focus on the ‘Prevent’ function has eclipsed the need to do simple things well on the quayside in Dover, he said.

He added that although staff were doing their very best, they were tired, and high volumes of migrants led to poor record keeping and data collection and processes that do not work.

Mr Neal said: "The workforce can do no more. They have responded with enormous fortitude and exceptional personal commitment, which is humbling. However, we found there was a lack of effective and visible leadership.

"This is not about rank and file staff working hard on the quayside at Dover, this is about effective leadership, grip and the ability to bring in systems that work. Border Force and Immigration Enforcement officers at home and overseas are doing a great job on a daily basis.

"A new model for Borders and Enforcement is desperately required if our border is to be secured and vulnerability effectively addressed. There needs to be a strategic approach by the Home Office to regularise their response to small boats, as this has become business as usual and moved beyond an emergency response."

The inspection was last December and January and the report made recommendations, all of which the Home Office has accepted.

Priority is placed on ensuring that staff received training and updated guidance in security matters, including how the Biometric Recording Stations are operated.

Further improvements needed to have been made, including identifying migrants who are vulnerable such as children, single women and families, and ensuring information is properly recorded and acted upon.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We thank Mr Neal for his report.

"Since the inspection took place, we have transformed how we manage the arrival of migrants making dangerous and unnecessary Channel crossings in small boats. This includes the previously planned closure of Tug Haven and the movement to a two-site operation at Western Jet Foil and Manston.

“We have accepted all the report’s recommendations, the majority of which were already being addressed at the time of the inspection, and almost all this work has already been completed.”

In 2021, 28,526 people arrived on the south coast in small boats, according to Home Office statistics – a significant increase from 236 in 2018.

This was when the use of small craft first became regular, following until then the usual method of asylum seekers getting into Britain by hiding in the backs of lorries coming from the Continent to Kent.

More than 14,000 migrants have made the crossing so far this year after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats such as dinghies, provisional Government figures show.

Ministry of Defence figures show a total 1,474 asylum seekers were picked up by British authorities in a total 39 small boats last week.

This was every single day from Monday, July 11, to Sunday, July 17.

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