Migrants who cross the Channel into Britain are being held in a processing centre that resembles a ‘rubble-strewn building site’, an inspection has found.
Those arriving in Britain were often forced to spend hours waiting to be seen in cramped conditions, often while still wearing the soaking wet and freezing clothes they travelled in.
The HM Inspectorate of Prisons conducted a series of surprise visits to five Home Office-run centres that deal with migrants making the perilous crossing.
It exposed a series of failures but also found detainees were generally positive about their treatment by staff.
Charities said the findings were ‘extremely disturbing’ and show the ‘brutal reality of how refugee children are treated in Priti Patel’s Britain’.
More than 7,400 people have arrived in the UK this year on small boats – far more than any year previously.
Those picked up by border force patrols are first taken to Tug Haven in Dover – a place described as inspectors as a ‘rubble strewn building site.’
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: ‘Detainees almost always arrived wet and cold, but then often had to spend hours in the open air or in cramped containers.
‘Basic supplies, including dry clothing, ran out during the inspection and some detainees were placed on escort vehicles in wet clothes.’
There was also ‘nowhere suitable’ to isolate for people displaying symptoms of Covid-19, inspectors found.
After Tug Haven, migrants are often moved to the Kent Intake Unit (KIU) and Frontier House in Folkestone, where some detainees were ‘held for more than two days in rooms with no sleeping facilities, showers or access to the open air.’
The inspectors also visited Lunar House in Croydon and the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedford, where migrants who are being deported are taken.
Particular concerns were raised in relation to the treatment of children, many of whom were arriving on UK shores on their own.
In one case a 15-year-old boy was held for more than 66 hours and records were not clear as to why this had happened. In another incident, a child was mistakenly taken to a detention centre for adults.
Some very young children in family groups were also held for far too long, inspectors said.
One family including a baby and four other children under 11 were held in Frontier House for 45 hours and an 80-year-old woman, travelling without her family, was held for more than 40 hours.
While numbers of migrants crossing to the UK in small boats have soared in 2020, Mr Clarke criticised a failure by the Home Office to plan ‘for what must have been a predictable increase’.
He said: ‘Just because numbers are unprecedented, that does not mean they are unpredictable, or cannot be planned for’.
Mr Clarke added that while numbers were far higher in 2020, the reception arrangements at Tug Haven were not fit for even small numbers.
Those detainees who were taken to Yarl’s Wood were received into a high standard of accommodation and reported that staff treated them well, the report found.
Mr Clarke said: ‘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.’
He called for ‘coordinated and strategic action’ involving different Home Office agencies and the Dover port authorities.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: ‘Wet, cold, unaccompanied children detained in unacceptable conditions with adult strangers, no access to legal advice and little safeguarding, record keeping or basic health screening.
‘This report reveals the brutal reality of how refugee children are treated in Priti Patel’s Britain.
‘HMIP makes it absolutely clear that this is not a result of a rise in numbers, it is a result of her lack of care and action.’
A spokesperson for Mitie, which manages KIU, Frontier House and Lunar House on behalf of the Home Office, said: ‘It’s positive to see the report acknowledge that our colleagues treat detainees with respect including the frequent use of interpretation services to support initial interviews.
‘However, we appreciate there are still areas for us to work on. Following the publication of this report, and in partnership with the Home Office, we will continue to make improvements and look to implement the recommendations made.’
Responding to the inspection findings, the Home Office said it is ‘fully adhering’ to its statutory duties to ensure facilities are decent and humane.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We take the welfare of people in our care extremely seriously. We are fully adhering to our statutory duties to ensure our facilities are decent and humane.
‘We have also improved both our facilities and the way we deal with arrivals in response to the unprecedented rise in small boat crossings.
‘These crossings are dangerous, illegally-facilitated and unnecessary. We are committed to fixing the asylum system, to make it fairer and firmer, compassionate to those who need help and welcoming people through safe and legal routes.’
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