Channel migrants arrive in UK with petrol burns, says watchdog

Chief inspector of prisons raises concerns over conditions faced by people arriving in Kent

Migrants who tried to cross from France in small boats arrive in Dover, south-east England. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Migrants are arriving in the UK soaking wet and with petrol burns after crossing the Channel, a British watchdog has said.

Chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor has raised concerns about the Home Office’s “haphazard” arrangements for Channel migrants by describing the conditions of some people brought ashore in Kent.

“People are arriving wet, sometimes with petrol burns," Mr Taylor said. "People are still having to occasionally spend a night in a tent without proper bedding."

Mr Taylor, who will have the responsibility of scrutinising conditions on Rwanda deportation flights if they go ahead, said families were “crammed into facilities where some basic safeguards were not in place”.

He likened the Kent Intake Unit to a “hospital waiting room with bright neon lights on all night”.

Mr Taylor said inspectors came across a case where a man who had a conviction for a relatively serious offence was spending the night in the centre with children and families.

“I remain very concerned about the haphazard arrangements in place for those who have crossed the Channel in small boats," he said in an overview of inspections over the past year.

“Promised facilities in Dover had not materialised when we inspected in November 2021, and we found that some families were sleeping on the floor in flimsy tents with inadequate bedding or crammed into facilities where some basic safeguards were not in place.”

Given the growing number of arrivals, there has been “insufficient preparation to provide for vulnerable adults and children”, he said.

Mr Taylor said he expected “significant improvements” at a new centre being put in place at the disused Manston airfield in Ramsgate, London.

More than 14,000 migrants have made the crossing so far this year from France, crossing busy shipping lanes in small boats, provisional UK government figures show.

In his annual report, Mr Taylor predicted a “flood” of resignations by prison officers in some jails, and that staff recruitment is “perhaps the biggest challenge facing the prison service”.

The problem had been exacerbated by the “employment of unsuitable candidates who left the service within the first year of taking up the job”, he said.

The watchdog also found young men were being left to lead “long lives of criminality” because of a lack of training and education while behind bars.

Some inmates were still spending 23 hours a day or more locked in their cells despite Covid-19 restrictions being lifted this year.

Others are left to watch daytime TV or sleep instead of taking part in classes and activities.

Mr Taylor said there was “no reason why” prisons could not return to pre-pandemic regimes now restrictions have been lifted.

The government said it had made “significant improvements” in the way it dealt with migrant arrivals and was “adhering to our statutory duties in all aspects”.

The temporary Tug Haven centre closed in January and now there is a system for processing arrivals, going through initial checks at Western Jet Foil in Dover, then on to Manston for “further processing where appropriate”.

“The facilities allow arrivals to be held in a safe and secure environment, where any safeguarding and vulnerability issues can be dealt with,” a spokesman said.

The government also insisted it was “making progress to rehabilitate prisoners. Fifty per cent more offenders are finding work shortly after release than a year ago, reducing reoffending and making our streets safer”.

About 4,000 more prison staff have been hired in the past four years and there are plans to increase the number in prisons by 5,000 by the mid-2020s, a spokesman said.

Updated: July 14, 2022, 7:45 AM