Channel migrants have been left in “building site” detention centres after the Home Office failed to prepare for a “predictable” surge in migrants this year, says a report by the chief inspector of prisons.
Peter Clarke said that in just three months from June to August this year, some 2,500 people arrived at the ill-prepared and “unsuitable” Tug Haven detention centre in Dover before being dispersed to other facilities.
“The area resembled a building site. Detainees almost always arrived wet and cold, but then often had to spend hours in the open air or in cramped containers, before moving to another detention environment,” said Mr Clarke.
“Detainees were often crowded into spaces where social distancing was not possible. Basic supplies, including dry clothing, ran out during the inspection and some detainees were placed on escort vehicles in wet clothes.”
Mr Clarke blamed the problems on the failure to anticipate the surge in migrants despite the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid declaring it a “major incident” in late 2018 with numbers building up to this year’s record 7,000-plus, five times the rate in 2019.
“The poor conditions at Tug Haven in particular were not the result of a large number of people arriving. It was simply that there was inadequate provision,” said Mr Clarke.
“Contingency planning, by this stage of a long-running situation, should be able to deliver a flexible and adequate response.
“It is hard to understand this failure to prepare properly for what must have been a predictable increase in migrant numbers.
Watch: Home Office minister Kit Malthouse talked up the chances of a trade deal with the EU
“It needs to be understood that just because numbers are unprecedented, that does not mean they are unpredictable, or cannot be planned for.”
The Home Office has since converted Napier Barracks in Kent and Penally barracks in Wales to house asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel and is exploring offshore options including a decommissioned ferry.
A Home Office spokesman 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.”
Watch: Kit Malthouse says people should check area’s Covid restrictions