After close to 600 people attempted to cross the Channel within 72 hours, Home Secretary Priti Patel is launching an investigation into the Border Force and urges social media ban on content that promotes crossings. Calls to close the notorious Napier barracks mount after a high court ruling found it failed to meet minimum standards. Kent County Council is threatening to take legal action against the Home Office as the number of unaccompanied minors in its care stands nearly at the double of what is deemed safe by the government.

Despite promises by Home Secretary Patel to make the route “unviable”, 585 people attempted to cross the Channel in just 72 hours in early June, marking a doubling this year compared to the same period of 2020. While a Home Office spokesperson emphasised the prevention of the crossings of 3,500 people and Conservative MPs are urging French authorities to accept people intercepted by the British Border Force, Patel is reportedly growing frustrated with arrivals. The Home Office has launched an investigation after a Border Force agency vessel allegedly picked up people in French waters and took them to Dover thereby helping them to enter the UK “illegally”. Home Secretary Patel is calling on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to ban “totally unacceptable clips” that according to her are used by people smugglers to promote crossings. Minnie Rahman from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants denounces the accusations as an attempt to deflect ongoing failures by the Home Office, further stating: “Patel has chosen to take a frantic, chaotic and irresponsible approach to the asylum system, which will only push desperate people further into the hands of people smugglers and traffickers, and make journeys more deadly.” On 7 June the body of a 15-month-old baby who disappeared in the Channel in October 2020 along with his parents, brother and sister when their boat sank, was identified by Norwegian police after it washed up at the south-west coast of the country. In Calais, on the French side of the Channel which has been the scene of recent clashes, several hundred police officers evicted makeshift camps housing some 500 people hoping to cross to the UK and relocated them to camps in Northern France and elsewhere.

On 3 June, six asylum seekers won a legal challenge against the government when a high court judge ruled that accommodation in the Napier barracks failed to meet minimum standards. The six were all trafficking or torture victims experiencing a deterioration of their mental health caused by their accommodation conditions. According to the Guardian the court found that: “Napier barracks in Folkestone, Kent, provided inadequate accommodation for asylum seekers and that the home secretary’s process for selecting people to be accommodated at the site was flawed and unlawful. It also found that residents of the barracks were unlawfully detained under purported Covid rules”. Following the ruling, lawyers and leading human rights organisations have reiterated calls for the immediate closure of the controversial facility and alternative accommodation for its residents. Reportedly, staff employed by contractors hired by the Home Office to run Napier barracks has threatened residents with being “blacklisted” if they speak to media about the ruling. According to Maddie Harris from Humans for Rights Network: “They were told by staff that there is a full list of people in the camp and that names have been circled who are known to have spoken to journalists. They were told it’s going to be a problem for their asylum claim.” The Home Office agreement for the use of Napier barracks runs out in September but an extension is possible although it would require discussions with the Ministry of Defence and the local planning authorities.

Kent County Council is threatening to take legal action against the Home Office with services for unaccompanied children at a breaking point. In August 2020 the council announced that it had reached its capacity and is now housing twice the number of children deemed safe by the government. In its proposed judicial review, the council urges Home Secretary, Priti Patel to ensure that other local authorities receive their fair share of unaccompanied children. Regretting “a repeat of the same crisis of nine months ago”, Kent County Council leader Roger Gough stated: “The Home Office consulted on changes to the national transfer scheme in August and September last year and have yet to publish any new proposals or a response to the consultation”. The local authority expects to be unable to accept new unaccompanied children within days.

For further information:

Photo: (CC) Jeff Djevdet, February 2016

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.