Longport Freight Shed, Dover Seaport and Frontier House Short-Term Holding Facilities - lacking basic facilities

The Home Office and Tascor’s response to high numbers of migrants arriving through the Channel Tunnel over the summer and early autumn was inadequate, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Detainees did not have their basic physical needs met and conditions fundamentally lacked decency, he added. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the short-term holding facilities at Dover and Folkestone in Kent.

Inspectors previously inspected Dover Seaport in February 2015 but before publication of that report, it became apparent that the situation had changed significantly as a result of higher numbers of migrants arriving from France. Inspectors therefore carried out a further scoping visit on 7 September 2015 to establish the nature of these changes. During this visit inspectors learned that a new ‘non-detained’ area had been created at Dover, Dover Seaport, and an overflow detention facility, Frontier House, had opened in Folkestone. Inspectors returned to inspect Dover Seaport and Frontier House in October 2015. During the course of the inspection it became apparent that people were also being detained at a third site in Folkestone, Longport freight shed, where many of those going to Dover or Frontier House had first arrived. An inspection of this area was also conducted.

The facilities detained clandestine migrants attempting to gain entry to the UK. They were hidden in vehicles on the ferry to Dover, in the Channel Tunnel or on freight trains arriving in Folkestone. In June 2015 there had been a sudden and substantial increase in the number of such migrants coming through the Channel Tunnel in particular. Many were from Eritrea, Sudan and Syria. Migrants arriving through the Channel Tunnel were all first detained in Longport freight shed before being moved to the holding room in Dover or Frontier House. Many of the detainees who entered the UK in this way had previously been living in insanitary conditions in makeshift camps in Calais. The unprecedentedly high numbers of people arriving from France had led to a strain on the infrastructure and placed considerable pressure on Tascor and Home Office staff. While both had made efforts to manage the situation, this had not gone far enough and quickly enough.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the Longport freight shed was a wholly unacceptable environment in which to hold people, even for short periods, yet more than 500 people were held there in just over a month, including 90 children. Detainees had insufficient food, and conditions lacked decency and were unhygienic;
  • Dover Seaport was crowded and poorly ventilated, was not designed to hold people for more than a few hours and had no sleeping facilities but from July to September, more than 2,700 detainees were held there for an average of over 18 hours, including 381 children; and
  • the overflow facility at Frontier House was only used to accommodate adult male detainees without any apparent complex needs, had no showers and nowhere to rest, and was only suitable for stays of a few hours but was used on 30 days between July and September, accommodating 822 detainees, 17% of whom had been held for more than 24 hours.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • Dover Seaport holding room was due to be refurbished shortly after the inspection, during which time Frontier House was to be used for most detainees, with a contingency plan in place to use some spaces at Dover Immigration Removal Centre if necessary; and
  • a praiseworthy innovation at Dover was the ‘Atrium’, an area where detainees released from the holding room received support from third sector organisations.

Peter Clarke said:

“There is no doubt that the increases in migration initially overwhelmed the existing facilities and an emergency response was required. This inspection took place some months after that emergency response was initiated and it was unacceptable that arrangements were still not in place to process detainees quickly, efficiently and decently, while ensuring that the most vulnerable, such as children, were safe and that the basic physical needs of all detainees for food, rest and clothing were met.

“The events of the summer and early autumn of 2015, in terms of the numbers of migrants arriving through the Channel Tunnel were indeed unprecedented, but in light of the build up of activity over several months they were not unpredictable. That being so, rather than respond to unfolding events, it is difficult to understand why effective contingency plans were not put in place to cater for the rise in the number of migrants. We will conduct a follow-up inspection in due course.”


Notes to editors:    

  1. Read the report
  1. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  2. These unannounced inspections were carried out on 7 September, 1-2 and 5-6 October 2015.
  3. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview.