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'Unsuitable' detention facilities at Dover and Folkestone for asylum seekers says Independent Monitoring Board inspectors


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Asylum seekers were held in tents and portable cabins that were overstretched and "unsuitable for holding detainees overnight.”

That's the verdict of inspectors on the arrangements for people when brought in from the English Channel last summer in reports published today.

Asylum seekers brought into the Tug Haven area of Dover Western Docks in July. Picture Sam Lennon KMGroup
Asylum seekers brought into the Tug Haven area of Dover Western Docks in July. Picture Sam Lennon KMGroup

They were kept in the shelters in a car park after being rescued in their dinghies by the Border Force.

The facilities at the Tug Haven, beside a jetty in Dover Western Docks, were assessed by the Dover Independent Monitoring Board as an unsuitable environment to hold children or vulnerable people.

Some asylum seekers were also held on a double-decker bus parked at the site.

The daily flow of hundreds included families and unaccompanied minors.

Dover IMB chairman William Baker said: ‘The Board has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of people held in unsuitable conditions where adults and children may be held for over 24 hours.

'More and better provision is urgently needed...'

“Migrants are initially held in an overstretched facility at the docks, with unsatisfactory arrangements for food, sleeping or washing. They are then transferred to other locations, which can include holding rooms in Dover and Folkestone ,which are also not designed to cope with these numbers. It is clear that more and better provision is urgently needed."

The Board warned that child welfare was put at risk across the wider set of detention facilities in Dover and Folkestone, to which migrants were eventually transferred from the Tug Haven.

“The holding facilities in Dover and Folkestone are unsuitable for the numbers of detainees arriving and should be expanded or replaced as a matter of urgency,” the Board said.

It adds that the Home Office does not class the Tug Haven as a place of immigration detention, calling it an initial reception facility used as a short-term measure.

But such were the numbers coming across the Channel this year that many people were held there overnight.

Dover's secondary holding centre, the Kent Intake Unit, is at the Eastern Docks. General view image
Dover's secondary holding centre, the Kent Intake Unit, is at the Eastern Docks. General view image

The Board said the flow of small boat migrants should have been predicted after the experience of recent years.

Last summer there were times when more than 500 people were estimated to have arrived in a single day, including one day in August 2021 when more than 800 people were received.

More than 16,400 asylum seekers arrived in Britain in 2021 by September 24 - nearly double the number who came during the whole of 2020.

Concerns about the Tug Haven in 2021 are reported in an annexe to the main Dover IMB report, covering two Kent short-term holding facilities, the Kent Intake Unit at Dover Eastern Docks and Frontier House in Shorncliffe Road, Folkestone.

The main report says: “The short-term detention holding rooms in Dover and Folkestone are unsuitable for the large number of people now held there, and the welfare of children is put at risk by the practice of holding unaccompanied under-18s in the same room as adults who are not family members.”

The Board monitored the Tug Haven initial reception facility this June. It said in the annexe: “The Tug Haven reception facility is intended as a short-term measure to hold migrants when they first arrive across the Channel, prior to being taken to other locations.

The Tug Haven area of Dover Western Docks. Picture Sam Lennon KMGroup
The Tug Haven area of Dover Western Docks. Picture Sam Lennon KMGroup

"However, with several hundred people often arriving in a single day, many migrants now stayed at the facility overnight, sleeping on the floor of a tent without sleeping mats.”

The Board raised particular concerns about the safeguarding of children in the holding rooms and the identification of vulnerability at the Tug Haven.

It points out that:

  • In 2020, the number of unaccompanied minors (696) almost doubled from the previous year. By the second half of 2020, Kent County Council could no longer take minors into its care.
  • In Frontier House there is no separate space for children or families.
  • Due to overcrowding, there are times where unaccompanied children are being held in small spaces with adults they do not know.
  • Failures in age assessment have meant that under-18s have been mistakenly transported to immigration removal centres. The mounting pressure on staff increases the likelihood of issues of vulnerability being missed, or not considered in enough depth.

The Board further noted that whilst brief medical checks took place at the Tug Haven, there were instances where migrants had been transferred to immigration removal centres without serious health problems or injuries having been identified.

Food at the Tug Haven was insufficient or improvised and there was no running water or provision for washing. Since the finalising of the Board’s report, sleeping mats were introduced at the Tug Haven in late September.

"Given how long the situation has continued, it is surprising that the Home Office still has such inadequate facilities."

But on the plus side Board members witnessed caring and supportive interactions between staff and detainees.

Detainees have spoken positively to the monitors of the way they have been treated, and “staff should be commended for the calm and respectful approach observed by the Board, particularly given the pressurised and difficult circumstances in which they are working.”

Mr Baker also said: ‘Given how long the situation with small boat arrivals has continued, it is surprising that the Home Office still has such inadequate facilities for properly managing the care of children.

"It is surprising that elderly and vulnerable people have been sleeping on mats on the floor, that medical support has not been expanded and that there are still no proper washing facilities at the overflow room in Folkestone.

"The Board has observed some small improvements over the summer, but they have not gone far enough."

A Home Office Spokesperson said:“We have already taken steps to expand and improve buildings and amenities at Tug Haven and construction is underway for a new purpose-built triage facility for small boat arrivals.”

“The Government is determined to tackle the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings. The New Plan for immigration will deliver the most comprehensive reforms in decades to fix the broken system and break the business model of people smugglers.”

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