The Home Office’s response to the rising number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel has been “poor” and the system is “overwhelmed”, a watchdog report has found.
The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, said despite the situation being deemed a “crisis” by Priti Patel‘s department, its response has not been effective or efficient.
In a foreword to the report, Mr Neal said processes are being carried out at “best effort”, which is “not good enough”.
He added that the volume of Channel arrivals “is unprecedented” and that “on some days the system is clearly overwhelmed”.
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“The Home Office’s performance in delivering an effective and efficient response to the challenge posed by the increasing volume of migrant arrivals via small boats is poor,” Mr Neal continued.
“In my judgment, this arises principally from a refusal to transition from an emergency response to what has rapidly become steady state, or business as usual. This refusal permeates every aspect of the Home Office’s response.
“Systems, processes and resourcing pathways, which months into the crisis should be routine, codified, auditable and familiar, have been delivered at ‘best effort’. This is not good enough.
“Data, the lifeblood of decision-making, is inexcusably awful. Equipment to carry out security checks is often first generation and unreliable.”
The report’s findings include:
• A total of 227 migrants had absconded from secure hotels between September 2021 and January 2022 and not all had been biometrically enrolled
• Biometrics, such as taking fingerprints and photographs of those who have arrived, are not always recorded
• Effective safeguarding was sacrificed because of the large numbers of migrants arriving in small boats
• No interpreters were used, hindering staff’s ability to identify and safeguard vulnerable migrants
Mr Neal added that “nothing in this report will come as a surprise to ministers, officials or the workforce”.
The official previously said he was “frustrated” the much-delayed report had not been published after it was handed to the home secretary on 24 February this year.
The report made four recommendations. These were:
• Security: Ensure staff are sufficiently trained and provided with guidance on biometric recording, the process for the seizure or return of property and/or intelligence material within a month
• Vulnerability: Provide guidance, training and monitoring mechanisms for staff to improve on identifying vulnerable migrants within three months
• Collection and use of information: Improve the quality of information recording and design and implement a single, accurate database of information relating to migrants’ arrivals within three months
• Resourcing: Review the operational staffing requirements within three months
Urging the department to deliver the four recommendations, Mr Neal continued: “A new model for borders and enforcement is desperately required if our border is to be secured and vulnerability effectively addressed.”
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The Home Office said that since the inspection took place which formed the basis of the report, it has “transformed arrangements for the reception and initial processing of people arriving by small boat across the Channel” which has addressed the “core issues” highlighted by Mr Neal.
A statement read: “There remains work to do, but much of this report is now of a historic character and the criticisms identified reflect processes and procedures not now followed under the new operation.
“Nonetheless, the Home Office acknowledges the observations of fact in the report and accepts all the recommendations without demur.
“In many cases, work was already in train at the time of the inspection in response to these issues.”
“Almost all of the recommendations have now been addressed,” it added.
Earlier this month, it was confirmed that more than 3,000 people crossed the English Channel in small boats in June as arrivals continue to outstrip 2021 by more than double.
At least 12,700 people have succeeded in reaching the UK aboard small boats in the first half of 2022, Sky News data shows, alarming charities and aid organisations.
Some 28,526 people crossed the Channel in small boats last year, according to official figures, but this is expected to almost double in 2022, according to a union representing Border Force workers.