Original article from Kent Live
A Chief Inspector of Prisons report into three Kent refugee facilities has given further insight into the nature of the asylum system on Kent's coast.
The report, published in September 2020 received little attention, arguably due to continued controversy surrounding the better-known Napier Barracks.
The findings indicate several key areas where improvement had been advised as far back as 2016, but had not been made.
Untold Stories – a new newsletter bringing together the very best journalism about and for our underserved and minority communities from across the south east.
Simply press here to enter your email address and get news, features and plenty more besides direct to your inbox.
And subscribe to the KentLive newsletter here for the latest breaking news and updates.
The report is notably not as negative as a similar report produced about Napier Barracks – though it still lists a number of troubling areas where these intake facilities fall short of their intended function.
What are these intake units meant to do?
Kent Intake Unit (KIU), Frontier House and Tug Haven are not the same kind of facilities as Napier Barracks – which is a place explicitly designated to hold people for extended periods of time whilst their asylum claims are heard and ruled upon.
Instead, these are initial landing destinations – acting in a similar way in the asylum process to something like customs in an airport, allowing for processing of key information about new arrivals.
These are not intended as places anyone would be staying in for an extended period of time of more than a few hours, with the idea that they are processed and promptly elsewhere to have their asylum claim heard, or to be moved for deportation.
"However, the detention facilities in Dover were very poorly equipped to meet their purpose and important processes had broken down," the report outlines.
"The average length of detention was 15 hours 45 minutes in KIU, and 17 hours in Frontier House.
"During the inspection, some detainees were held in excess of 50 hours without access to the open air or sleeping facilities."
KIU and Frontier House "provided acceptable accommodation for short periods but were not suitable for very lengthy detentions.
"Some detainees were held for more than two days in rooms with no sleeping facilities, showers, or access to the open air.
"KIU in particular was crowded and poorly ventilated."
In the absence of beds and sofas, some makeshift facilities are provided, but these too are criticised:
"There were no proper sleeping facilities and detainees slept on the floor on thin mattresses, mats and beanbags, which were not cleaned between uses.
"The rooms were often dirty and staff told us that it was difficult to ensure the facilities were cleaned as a result of the number held."
The report does especially note that those working at these facilities were not at fault, especially at Tug Haven:
"Despite the poor conditions, the detainees we interviewed were almost all very positive about the way individual staff at Tug Haven treated them."
However, worrying errors such as placing a child mistakenly into a detention centre for adults indicated "weaknesses in child safeguarding procedures".
Furthermore – and most concerningly – the situation at these facilities was "readily acknowledged by local Homme Office staff who were themselves working in challenging conditions."
"We were told that Home Office managers had long been seeking an improvement in conditions, but with little success," the report continues.
Beyond the KIU and Frontier House, the most damning words were saved for Tug Haven.
It was described as a "building site," where people 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" – such as those at KIU or Frontier House.
The report raised a number of issues – which give a worrying insight into the conditions asylum seekers face upon arrival in Kent.
At KIU and Tug Haven in Dover, there were clear issues with basic sanitation, with the report stating: "there was no ready access to showers or lockable toilets with seats and lids"
Not only this, but conditions individuals were held in were themselves poor.
"Detainees, including children, were held for far too long and often overnight in facilities with no access to the open air and little or no natural light."
"Managers agreed that the environment was not acceptable but not enough progress had been made towards improving the situation."
These issues 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 lengthy periods without being able to have a shower."
Furthermore, it was detailed that many who arrived had their mobile phones removed from them, and "could not gain access to the contact details for family or friends."
Vulnerable detainees were not properly identified, and health assessments to work out the needs of those held were not carried out, carrying potential risks to asylum seekers held at these facilities.
Most alarmingly however, the report seems to indicate that many of these issues not only existed before the pandemic, but were not rectified.
The prior inspection, carried out in 2016, only accounts for the Kent Intake Unit, but indicates a number of recommendations that were not achieved.
These issues were raised four years prior to the report's writing, making the lack of change all the more concerning.
Included in the list of recommendations in 2016 that were not met by 2020 were:
- Separate facilities for receiving children, and ensuring that unaccompanied children are not held with unrelated adults
- That all claiming to be children undergo an age assessment by local services
- That detainees are given written reasons for their being detained in a language they can understand, and access to means to send documents to legal representatives
- That all, including children, should be held for the minimum period possible
- That rooms should have adequate space for the number of detainees, and these detainees should have access to showers, toilets and hot drinks
- That detainees should have supervised access to the internet