‘Inhumane Treatment’ for Asylum Seekers crossing the Channel

Independent monitors say that asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel in small boats are being subjected to ‘inhumane treatment’ and are being moved between detention centres with some having broken bones, burns or cancer not being treated.

Evidence which has been collated by four separate independent monitoring boards who scrutinise prisons, and immigration detention facilities, have found that people arriving at Dover were being kept in crowded conditions – with no social distancing – and also serious errors were being made in their documentation.

The inspectors examined the process that those arriving on small boats go through from the moment they disembark in Dover from a dinghy, through attending different immigration detention centres, to being put on a plane back to the EU country they passed through before arriving in the UK.

This is the first time that the process that the asylum seekers go through in the UK has been assessed.  National chair of the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), Dame Anne Owens, said in her evidence that monitors “believe that the cumulative effect (of the failing) amounts to inhumane treatment of detainees which should be urgently addressed”.

According to recent analysis nearly 8,000 people have crossed the Channel this year, almost four times last years number.  Many have come from conflict zones including Syria, Yemen, Iran and Iraq.  Since 12th August the UK government has chartered 12 planes to remove some of them, two planes were cancelled and one halted due to a high court injunction.

The IMBs have a duty to alert government ministers to concerns regarding inhumane or degrading treatment and wrote to the Home Office Immigration Minister Chris Philip to raise concerns, but has yet to receive a response.

The body’s reports which have been submitted to the home affairs select committee’s inquiry into migration and  asylum seeking routes through the EU – include details of 291 detainees being held in crowded conditions in Dover, without social distancing, for more than 24 hours.

They found that Border Force officials had made serious errors in documentation when moving people from Dover toe the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre in Bedfordshire, where new arrivals are further processed.  Errors included writing the wrong names next to photos.  Nine unaccompanied children were mistakenly taken to the adult processing centre via Yarl’s Wood.

The monitors had found that some asylum seekers were moved from Dover to Yarl’s Wood with untreated injuries or conditions including leg injuries, a broken wrist, untreated friction burns and advanced cancer.

At Brook House immigration detention centre near to Gatwick airport, where small boat cases are taken before being removed on charter flights, a large number of detainees were said to have become extremely distressed and at risk of suicide.  In August 44 out of 80 were deemed a suicide risk, on 7th October 51% were deemed at risk of suicide.  There were also 44 acts of self harm recorded in a population of 80 detainees.

Some asylum seekers were put on flights before a vulnerability assessment had been completed.  One man who was on constant suicide watch had poured boiling water over his legs just before a flight, but was still put on a plane.  Their were others who had attempted suicide and taken to hospital just before their flight, and then taken straight from hospital to their flight.

The evidence given states that IMBs are criticising the system surrounding detention and removal rather than individual members of staff.

Director of the charity Medical Justice which works for the health rights of immigration detainees, Emma Ginn said: “We along with other charities and monitoring bodies have documented ongoing failures to identify vulnerable migrants and warned the Home Office about these repeatedly.  The relentless deportation charter flights feel like a crusade to quickly get rid of victims of war and persecution without having had their history of trafficking and torture being taken into account”.