Britain's handling of Channel migrants 'ineffective and inefficient'

Inspectors say Home Office has failed to adapt to prolonged cross-Channel traffic

Migrants are taken off a small boat after arriving at England's southern tip from across the English Channel. AP
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The UK's Home Office is “ineffective and inefficient” at dealing with rising numbers of migrants who arrive in small boats from across the English Channel, an inspection has found.

David Neal, the chief inspector for borders and immigration, described a series of failures, including shoddy data collection which meant dozens of migrants absconded without having had their photographs or fingerprints taken.

He said effective safeguarding of migrants was “effectively sacrificed” in order to speed up the process and that no interpreters were used at one of the facilities, losing opportunities to gain intelligence on traffickers.

Responding to his report, the Home Office said a new facility for border checks at the disused Manston airfield had improved the system since the inspection, and that failures on land may have stemmed from a focus on saving lives at sea.

“This is an exceptionally high-risk operation where the threat to life is ever present,” it said. “It was right in the circumstances that prioritisation was given to the effort to preserve life.”

More than 14,000 people have made the perilous crossings in small boats this year, a sensitive political issue that reached boiling point when 27 migrants died on their journey to Britain last year.

Britain and France blame each other for failing to rein in the illegal activity, while UK ministers plan to deter prospective migrants by deporting them to Rwanda in a policy widely criticised by human rights groups.

When Mr Neal inspected the facilities, the migrants were processed at two centres at England's southern tip, Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil, although the first has since closed. Manston opened in January and more facilities at Western Jet Foil are planned.

The opposition said Home Secretary Priti Patel, centre, should resign over her department's failings. Getty

Mr Neal went public with his frustration that the 88-page inspection report was not released earlier, claiming that Home Office officials had objected to the tone of his foreword.

In it, he said officials were still treating the prolonged cross-Channel traffic as an emergency response in which a “best effort” was deemed enough.

“Data, the lifeblood of decision-making, is inexcusably awful. Equipment to carry out security checks is often first generation and unreliable,” he wrote.

“Staff on the ground are doing their very best, but they are tired. Volumes, at times, are extraordinarily high, and the humanitarian reality of the operation leads to patchy data collection, a characteristic of many crisis responses.”

Inspectors were told that 227 migrants had absconded from secure hotels since September last year, not all of whom had been biometrically registered.

Over a five-week period alone, 57 migrants had absconded — two thirds of whom had not had their fingerprints and photographs taken, the report found.

Yvette Cooper, the home affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said Home Secretary Priti Patel should be “sacked immediately” over what she called a “shocking level of incompetency”.

“It’s clear that Conservative ministers have absolutely no grip about what’s going on … every time, they go for headlines and not the hard work to do the basics and sort things out,” she said.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “This report is a damning indictment of the Home Office.”

Ms Patel this week announced plans to overhaul the UK's Border Force and to begin testing “contactless border crossings” for travellers by 2024.

Updated: July 21, 2022, 3:01 PM