Child migrants held for more than 24 hours in Kent detention centre, inspectors find

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Child migrants arriving in the UK on small boats are being detained for too long, with their treatment a “matter of concern”, inspectors have warned.

Children were left under the responsibility for Border Force in Dover. Picture: Adobe Stock
Children were left under the responsibility for Border Force in Dover. Picture: Adobe Stock

An unannounced inspection of the detention of migrants arriving in Dover, Kent, by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, found that children were “held for far too long and often overnight”.

This was partly because Kent County Council’s social services department no longer has the capacity to care for unaccompanied minors, meaning children waited a long time for social workers to arrive from other counties, a report of the inspection states.

Kent County Council declared in August that it could no longer “safely” care for any more unaccompanied children, after accepting 450 into its care this year.

Inspectors found that most children were held in Kent Intake Unit in Dover, with 73 unaccompanied and 250 accompanied children held there in the three months to 31 August 2020.

On average they were held for just over 17 hours, which was longer than the average for adults, with 29 per cent of unaccompanied children at KIU held for more than 24 hours.

Inspectors found that in one case, a 15-year-old boy was held for more than 66 hours. They said electronic records gave no indication of detention in the case having been reviewed, when social services were called or why he was held for so long.

Meanwhile some very young children in family groups were also held for far too long. One such group, held in Frontier House, in Folkestone, Kent, for 45 hours, included a baby and other children aged five, seven, nine and 10.

During the inspection, a detainee who was clearly a child was not identified as such or given a chief immigration officer (CIO) assessment. He was transferred to Yarl’s Wood, in Bedfordshire, as an adult where he was quickly noticed by staff and taken into local authority care.

Inspectors found that in the three months before the inspection, three other detainees who were transferred as adults, without having had a CIO assessment, were subsequently also taken into local authority care. 

The report reveals that all unaccompanied children received a face-to-face Home Office welfare interview. However, if they arrived in the day time, they were regularly interviewed about their welfare in the early hours of the following morning. One example was a 15-year old boy who arrived in the UK at 4.10pm, but had a welfare interview at 4.55am the next morning. 

Inspectors said the situation suggests “the Home Office might have lost sight of the purpose of the interviews”.

The report found that the Refugee Council had resumed its service for children arriving in Kent, having suspended it during the lockdown, with staff providing good support. Children were released into their care following the welfare interview and were then held in a more child-appropriate environment in rooms close to the KIU holding rooms.

However, since the suspension of Kent County Council’s social service provision, children were no longer always interviewed by a social worker before being taken to dispersal accommodation.

Inspectors found that some older children were sent unaccompanied to accommodation in a taxi. According to electronic records, a 12-year-old boy was sent to hotel accommodation in London with his 18-year-old brother, with no indication that any contact had been made with local authority social services departments.

The report recommends that the Home Office should ensure that its practice at Dover complies with its duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children arriving in the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is an absolute priority. We are fully adhering to our statutory duties and we have improved both our facilities and the way we deal with arrivals in response to the unprecedented rise in small boat crossings.

“Young people are prioritised to ensure the necessary welfare and security checks are completed in the shortest amount of time. After this they are collected by a local authority and cared for by social services.

“We have contracted a team of social workers as a temporary measure to support the Kent Intake Unit, with the aim of strengthening the unit’s age assessment and child safeguarding processes.”

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