Migrants reaching Dover spend first night in unsafe conditions

By Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor
A migrant rescued from the Channel by UK Border Force arrives at Dover harbour.
A migrant rescued from the Channel by UK Border Force arrives at Dover harbour. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Migrants crossing the Channel in small boats are spending their first night on UK soil in crowded, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, a damning independent report has concluded.

Exhausted people have been forced to sleep on tent floors without sleeping mats, on wooden benches and on bus seats with inadequate arrangements for food or washing, a report by the Dover Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said.

The report, which examined the treatment of migrants at Tug Haven, the short-term reception centre at Dover Western Docks, found it is increasingly being used to hold people overnight.

Describing the facilities as an unsuitable environment for children and elderly and vulnerable people, the report also discloses that an inquiry has been launched into how chemical burns on one migrant were not detected by staff.

The board also warns that child welfare has also been put at risk at other detention facilities in Dover and Folkestone to which migrants were eventually transferred.

William Baker, the chair of the board, said he was surprised the Home Office had failed to improve inadequate facilities given the growing numbers of migrants arriving over the last two years.

“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 surprising that the Home Office still has such inadequate facilities for properly managing the care of children, 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,” he said.

The board – a non-statutory body that is based within but independent of the Ministry of Justice and is made up of unpaid members of the public – had been given access to Tug Haven since June and was concerned to see that many detainees slept at the facility overnight.

“Many detainees have been observed by the Board to be exhausted and sleeping where they could – on the floor of the tent, on their backs on the wooden benches or in the coach or bus seats,” the report disclosed.

Food was insufficient and there was no running water and no provision for washing, the report said. Staff have been forced to order in pizzas at short notice to feed recent arrivals. “The Board has been informed that staff now make ad hoc arrangements to provide more substantial food to those staying overnight,” the report said.

Independent monitors said they have been surprised to find that serious health concerns have not been identified by Tug Haven staff before arrivals were moved on to other detention facilities.

“Concerns included detainees arriving from the Tug Haven with chemical burns,” the report said.

The board raised particular concerns about the safeguarding of children in Tug Haven and at other facilities in Dover and Folkestone. They found there are instances 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 (IRCs); and mounting pressure on staff increases the likelihood of issues of vulnerability being missed, or not considered in enough depth.

Reacting to the report, Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The men, women and children arriving in Dover are often exhausted, traumatised and can also have terrible physical injuries. They have fled war and oppression in search of safety and must be given the care, help and humane response they need and deserve.

“It’s alarming that the IMB has found burns not being treated and people not given the immediate care and attention they require.”

• This article was amended on 8 October 2021. An earlier version incorrectly described the Dover Independent Monitoring Board as “a statutory body that works with the Ministry of Justice”; it is, in fact, a non-statutory, arms-length body that is based within, but independent of, the MoJ.


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