A report from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has heavily criticized the UK government’s handling of Channel migrants. The report said the treatment was "unacceptable, ineffective and inefficient."
The UK's Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal was finally allowed to publish his report on Thursday, July 21. The publication of the report, which refers to two visits the inspectorate made to processing centers in and around Dover between December 2021 and January 2022, had been repeatedly delayed.
"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," Neal said in a summary of comments published by the UK government.
Neal and his team inspected processing facilities at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil in Dover. Tug Haven has since been closed, and the processing of newly arrived migrants from across the Channel now takes place at a former Ministry of Defense site at Manston in Kent. New facilities are due to open at Western Jet Foil, noted the press release attached to the report.
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Home Office 'failed'
Neal went on to say that 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."
It was widely reported on Thursday, including by the BBC, that Neal had repeatedly asked to meet Britain’s Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Priti Patel, who is responsible for the policy surrounding and operations of these kinds of migrant processing centers; reportedly she had declined every meeting since Neal took up office.
In an interview with BBC News, Neal said on television that he found it "frustrating that I have not met her [Priti Patel]… I think the home secretary should speak to me."
Neal said that part of the problem that much of the data needed, what he called "the lifeblood of decision-making" was "inexcusably awful." He said that "equipment to carry out security checks is often first-generation and unreliable. Biometrics, such as taking fingerprints and photographs, are not always recorded."
Absconding migrants found not registered
Neal added for instance that the Home Office officials had told his inspectors that "227 migrants had absconded from secure hotels between September 2021 and January 2022, and not all had been biometrically enrolled."
The Chief Inspector added that in just one five-week period, they had found that 57 migrants had absconded, two-thirds of those had not had their fingerprints or photographs taken. "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."
Because of the volumes of people coming in, the Chief Inspector felt that safeguarding had been sacrificed at the alter of attempting to move migrants quickly through the Tug Haven facility. The chief inspector found that 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 organized criminal gangs."
It was found that no interpreters were used in operations at Tug Haven which "hindered the ability of staff to identify and safeguard vulnerable migrants."
Many of the issues raised in Neal’s report were also picked up in 2021 in a separate inspection undertaken by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, noted the report. This also found that migrants were "being held in unsatisfactory conditions, with weak Home Office systems relating to governance, accountability and safeguarding."
The Home Office Team in charge with operations in Kent, named the Clandestine Channel Threat Command, was, according to Neal’s report, "pulled between day-to-day operations and developing a deterrent, as well as responding to the constant requests for strategic briefings."
Neal said that the team was too focused on delivering strategic effects "at the expense of delivering security and dealing humanely with the here and now." He said, "the focus on the 'Prevent' function has eclipsed the need to do simple things well on the quayside in Dover."
Staff 'doing their very best'
The report did note that staff were "doing their very best" but that they "were tired, and high volumes of migrants led to poor record keeping and data collection and processes that do not work." Neal commented that "the workforce can do no more. They have responded with enormous fortitude and exceptional personal commitment, which is humbling, and they are quite rightly proud of how they have stepped up. However, we found there was a lack of effective and visible leadership."
Neal called for a "new model for Borders and Enforcement.. if our border is to be secured and vulnerability effectively addressed.” He added the Home Office needed to implement a “strategic approach… to regularize their response to small boats, as this has become business as usual and moved beyond an emergency response."
The Home Office accepted all four recommendations made by the report. The report placed an emphasis on staff training and asked for updated guidance as of March 2022, with regards to security matters "including how the Biometric Recording Stations are operated."
Home Office: Improvements have already been made
By June 2022, it also expected that further improvements were made, "including identifying migrants who are vulnerable such as children, single women and families, and ensuing information is properly recorded and acted upon."
The Home Office said it thanked the inspector for his report. It added that since the inspections took place they had "transformed arrangements for reception and initial processing of people arriving by small boat across the Channel."
The majority of those changes, said the Home Office, were implemented in early 2022. They said their operations now are "fundamentally different to that which was inspected." They added that their two-site model means they can "fully prioritize immediate humanitarian and medical responses at Western Jetfoil while concentrating initial immigration, border security and asylum checks and processes at a new site at Manston."
The Home Office also said they closed the Tug Haven site in mid-January, and that the center had been the focus of much of the criticism of the report. In addition, they said almost all of the recommendations have now been addressed but admitted "there remains much work to do."
The chief inspector said they would re-inspect the processing facilities "later this year."