Three years into the small boat crisis, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has found the Home Office’s response to be both ineffectual and ineffective, exposing gaps in procedures safety and leaving vulnerable migrants at risk.
In 2021, 28,526 people arrived on the south coast in small boats, according to Home Office statistics – a significant increase from 236 in 2018.
An inspection of the processing facilities at Tug Haven, which have since closed, as well as those at Western Jet Foil, both in Dover, revealed that the Home Office’s response to the challenge of the growing number of migrants was poor, in particularly in terms of systems, processes, resources, data collection and accurate record keeping. A new migrant processing center opened in January 2022 at a former MoD site in Manston, also in Kent, with further facilities also due to open later this year at Western Jet Foil.
David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), said:
These migrants crossed the English Channel in disastrous circumstances. Many were vulnerable and at risk, including single children and women, and when they arrived in Dover the way they were treated was unacceptable. Indeed, the Home Office has failed over the last three years to move from responding to the crisis to putting in place better systems and procedures and dealing with this as if nothing had happened. .
Data, the lifeblood of decision-making, is inexcusably awful. Equipment for carrying out security checks is often first-generation and unreliable. Biometrics, such as taking fingerprints and photographs, are not always registered.
The Home Office told our inspectors that 227 migrants fled from secure hotels between September 2021 and January 2022, and not all of them were biometrically registered. In a single five-week period, 57 migrants fled – two-thirds of whom had not had their fingerprints and photographs taken.
Simply put, if we don’t have a registry of people coming into the country, we don’t know who is at risk or who is threatening.
To move migrants quickly through Tug Haven, effective protection was sacrificed due to the large number of migrants from small boats entering the country. Staff at all levels gave little thought to the link between vulnerability and security – that identifying a trafficking victim could feed the intelligence cycle and reveal intelligence about organized criminal gangs. The ability of staff to identify and protect vulnerable migrants was also hampered by the fact that no interpreters were used in the procedures carried out at Tug Haven.
Many of the issues identified were also noted in a separate inspection undertaken last year by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, which found that migrants were being held in unsatisfactory conditions, with Ministry systems interior weak in governance, accountability and protection.
Mr Neal added that the Home Office team tasked with responding to the crisis, the Clandestine Channel Threat Command, is torn between day-to-day operations and developing a deterrent, as well as responding to constant demands for briefings strategic. The majority of his campaign plan objectives focus on strategic effects to the detriment of security and human management in the here and now. Simply put, the emphasis on the ‘Prevent’ function has overshadowed the need to do the simple things right at Dover Dock.
He added that while staff were doing their best, they were tired and the high volumes of migrants were leading to poor record keeping, data collection and processes that didn’t work.
The workforce can’t take it anymore. They responded with enormous courage and exceptional personal commitment, which is humbling, and they are justifiably proud of the way they have committed themselves. However, we found that there was a lack of effective and visible leadership.
It’s not about hard-working core staff on the dock at Dover, it’s about effective leadership, adherence and the ability to put systems in place that work. Border and immigration officers at home and abroad do a great job every day.
A new model for borders and enforcement is desperately needed if our border is to be secure and vulnerability dealt with effectively. There needs to be a strategic approach from the Home Office to regularize its response to small boats as this has become business as usual and has gone beyond an emergency response.
The inspection was undertaken between December 2021 and January 2022 and the report made four recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Home Office, with the priority being to ensure that staff receive up-to-date training and guidance by March 2022 on security, including how biometric check-in Stations are operated.
By June 2022, further improvements were to be made, including identifying vulnerable migrants such as children, single women and families, and ensuring that information is properly recorded and processed. More detailed recommendations call for improving overall data quality and resource requirements.
Our recommendations are not intended to supersede those provided by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Home Office’s own joint review, but clearly indicate the need for the Home Office to implement urgently all recommendations as a priority.
We will re-inspect the processing facilities later this year.