A report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons at three Kent refugee settlements provided further insight into the nature of the asylum system on the Kent coast.

The report, released in September 2020, received little attention, no doubt due to the lingering controversy surrounding the better-known Napier Barracks.

The results indicate several key areas where improvements were recommended as early as 2016, but not made.

Read more: “England is Hope”: a day in the life of desperate refugees on the Kent coast

The three facilities included in the report are Tug Haven near the Port of Dover, the Kent Intake Unit in Dover itself and Frontier House in Folkestone.

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Notably, the report is not as negative as a similar report produced on the Napier Barracks – although it still lists a number of troubling areas where these intake facilities are not performing their intended function.

Napier Barracks, which also drew criticism from the Chief Prison Inspector
Napier Barracks, which also drew criticism from the Chief Prison Inspector

What are these admission units used for?

Kent Intake Unit (KIU), Frontier House and Tug Haven are not the same type of facility as Napier Barracks – which is an explicitly designated place to hold people for long periods of time while their asylum claims are heard and judged .

Instead, they are initial landing destinations – acting in a similar fashion in the asylum process to something like customs at an airport, allowing the processing of key information about new arrivals.

These are not intended to be places where someone would stay for an extended period of more than a few hours, with the idea that they would be processed and quickly elsewhere for their asylum claim to be heard or to be displaced for deportation.

“However, the Dover detention centers were very poorly equipped to achieve their purpose and important processes were down,” the report said.

“The average length of detention was 15 hours 45 minutes at KIU and 17 hours at Frontier House.

“During the inspection, some detainees were held for more than 50 hours without access to the open air or sleeping facilities.”

Structural issues

KIU and Frontier House “provided acceptable accommodation for short periods but were not suitable for very long detentions.

“Some detainees were held for more than two days in rooms without sleeping arrangements, showers or access to the open air.

“KIU in particular was overcrowded and poorly ventilated.”

In the absence of beds and sofas, some makeshift arrangements are planned, but these are also criticized:

“There were no proper sleeping facilities and inmates slept on the floor on thin mattresses, mats and ottomans, which were not cleaned between uses.

“The rooms were often dirty and the staff told us it was difficult to ensure the facilities were cleaned due to the number of people being held.”

The report notes in particular that the people working at these facilities were not at fault, especially at Tug Haven.

KentLive uses the term people to refer to those who cross the Channel and arrive on our shores.

This is because, regardless of their status at the point of entry, those moving from country to country are human beings.

You will have seen them commonly called migrants. It’s not false.

The United Nations Migration Agency defines a migrant as – any person who moves or has crossed an international border or within a State far from their usual place of residence, regardless of the legal status of the country. person, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what are the causes of the displacement or what is the length of stay.

KentLive also designates people in these circumstances as refugees.

The UN definition of refugees is – people who are outside their country of origin for reasons of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or other circumstances which have seriously disrupted public order and, therefore, require international protection.

“Despite the poor conditions, the inmates we interviewed were almost all very positive about the way Tug Haven staff treated them.”

However, worrying errors such as the mistakenly placing a child in an adult detention center indicated “weaknesses in child protection procedures”.

Moreover – and this is most worrying – the situation in these facilities was “easily recognized by the local staff of Homme Office who were themselves working under difficult conditions”.

“We have been told that Home Office officials have long sought an improvement in conditions, but with little success,” the report continued.

Beyond KIU and Frontier House, the most damning words have been reserved for Tug Haven.

It has been described as a “construction site”, where people arrived “damp and cold, but then often had to spend hours in the open or in cramped containers, before moving to another detention environment” – like those at KIU or Frontier House. .

“Main concerns”

The report raised a number of questions – which provide worrying insight into the conditions asylum seekers face upon arrival in Kent.

At KIU and Tug Haven in Dover, there were obvious problems with basic sanitation, with the report stating: “there was no easy access to showers or lockable toilets with seats and covers”

The toilets at Tug Haven in Dover.
The toilets at Tug Haven in Dover.

Not only that, but the conditions in which the individuals were held were themselves bad.

“Detainees, including children, have been held for far too long and often at night in facilities with no access to the open air and little or no natural light.”

“Managers agreed that the environment was not acceptable, but insufficient progress had been made to improve the situation. “

These problems were not limited to Dover, as there was “no shower at Frontier House [Folkestone] and only one shared shower at KIU.

“Many detainees were held for long periods without being able to take a shower.”

In addition, it was clarified that many of those who arrived had their cell phones taken away and “were unable to access contact details for family or friends”.

Vulnerable detainees have not been properly identified and health assessments to determine the needs of detainees have not been carried out, posing potential risks for asylum seekers detained in these facilities.

Pre-existing problems?

Most alarmingly, however, the report seems to indicate that many of these problems not only existed before the pandemic, but have not been rectified.

The pre-inspection, carried out in 2016, only takes into account the Kent intake unit, but indicates a number of recommendations that have not been achieved.

These questions were raised four years before the report was written, which makes the lack of change all the more worrying.

Included in the list of recommendations in 2016 that were not met by 2020 were:

  • Separate facilities to accommodate children and ensure unaccompanied children are not detained with unrelated adults
  • That all who claim to be children have their age assessed by local services
  • That detainees receive written reasons for their detention in a language they understand and have access to means of sending documents to legal representatives
  • That everyone, including children, should be detained for the minimum possible period
  • That the rooms should have sufficient space for the number of detainees, and that these detainees should have access to showers, toilets and hot drinks
  • That inmates should have supervised access to the Internet

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