Migrants arriving in Kent after crossing the English Channel are being processed at what resembles a “rubble-strewn building site”.
Many were then detained for days at a time in rooms with no sleeping facilities, showers or access to the open air.
A surprise visit to Home Office facilities by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) exposed a series of failures.
In one case a 15-year-old boy was held for more than 66 hours and records were not clear as to why this had happened.
However inspectors also found detainees were almost all very positive about their treatment by staff.
Charities said the findings were “extremely disturbing” and show the “brutal reality of how refugee children are treated in Priti Patel’s Britain”.
The report follows visits last month to short-term immigration detention holding facilities at:
- Tug Haven in Dover, where migrants were first taken from the beach or sea
- The Kent Intake Unit (KIU) in Dover
- Frontier House in Folkestone
- Lunar House in Croydon
- Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedford
When migrants first arrive in the UK, after either being picked up in the Channel or landing on beaches, they are taken to Tug Haven in Dover.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Detainees almost always arrived wet and cold, but then often had to spend hours in the open air or in cramped containers…
“Basic supplies, including dry clothing, ran out during the inspection and some detainees were placed on escort vehicles in wet clothes.”
The Tug Haven facility “resembled a rubble-strewn building site”, inspectors said.
They also found that there was “nowhere suitable” to isolate people displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
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Particular concerns were raised in relation to the treatment of children, many of whom were arriving on UK shores on their own.
In one case, a child was mistakenly taken to a detention centre for adults.
While numbers of migrants crossing in small boats have soared in 2020, Mr Clarke criticised a failure by the Home Office to plan “for what must have been a predictable increase”.
He said: “Just because numbers are unprecedented, that does not mean they are unpredictable, or cannot be planned for.”
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: “Wet, cold, unaccompanied children detained in unacceptable conditions with adult strangers, no access to legal advice and little safeguarding, record keeping or basic health screening.
“This report reveals the brutal reality of how refugee children are treated in Priti Patel’s Britain.
“HMIP makes it absolutely clear that this is not a result of a rise in numbers, it is a result of her lack of care and action.”
A spokesperson for Mitie, which manages KIU, Frontier House and Lunar House on behalf of the Home Office, said: “It’s positive to see the report acknowledge that our colleagues treat detainees with respect including the frequent use of interpretation services to support initial interviews.
“However, we appreciate there are still areas for us to work on.”