So far this year, more than 7,400 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived in the UK by small boat–nearly four times as many as in 2019. A new report has revealed that new arrivals are processed at a makeshift facility in Tug Haven, where hundreds are “forced to spend hours in cramped containers on a “rubble-strewn building site,” without appropriate provision of dry clothes and other basic supplies. As part of the “processing,” arrivals are screened for urgent medical conditions and symptoms of COVID-19–those who display symptoms are placed in a designated van. Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector for Prisons, said: “While the number of arrivals had been far higher in 2020 than in previous years, the reception arrangements at Tug Haven were not fit for even small numbers.”
In Scotland, a COVID-19 outbreak has been reported in Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre. Although the UK’s Home Office confirmed the detection of cases amongst immigration detainees in the facility, it withheld revealing the number of persons currently in the facility, and the number of confirmed cases. In May, however, the BBC reported that the IRC was “thought to be nearly empty” (see 11 May update on this platform). In a letter to the Home Secretary, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention requested that the Home Office reveal figures clarifying the number of detainees that have tested positive in the facility in the past 30 days.
The centre–which currently has capacity for 125 persons (after being reduced from 249 at the end of 2019)–is run by the for-profit GEO Group. Campaigners, who have long called for the facility’s closure, have urged authorities to release the remaining detainees, citing their concerns that persons in the facility “already suffer from mental health and medical conditions.” (In 2019, figures obtained by BBC Scotland revealed that 40 percent of detainees in the facility were classed as “vulnerable.” The BBC also reported that children continued to be detained in the facility, despite the UK government claiming in 2010 that it would end the detention of children.) As well as calling for their release, lawyers and campaigners have demanded that all persons released be tested for the virus and placed in private accommodation.
According to the APPG, one case has also been detected in Brook House IRC. Despite COVID-19 cases rising rapidly across the UK, the APPG reports that the number of persons in detention has risen in recent months (having been reduced during the first wave of the pandemic), and transfers of detainees around the detention estate have continued, despite the fact that such movements may spread the virus across facilities.
Although transfers have reportedly continued, UK government guidance (last updated in July) specifies that visits to immigration detention centres across the country remain barred–although some visits may be accommodated in exceptional circumstances. This also applies to visits by legal representatives: “Visits by legal representatives can continue but only in exceptional circumstances and if no other means of contact (Skype, phone, email) can be used instead.” However, as the Law Society noted in its latest report–”Law Under Lockdown”–solicitors have reported that the availability of technology within IRCs can be limited: “it is vital that adequate communication with lawyers is maintained from IRCs to ensure that individuals are represented effectively in these.”
According to the UK’s Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales, which released its 2019-2020 annual report this week, 23,075 people entered detention across the UK in the 12 months to 31 March 2020–5 percent fewer than the previous year. In surveys assessing detainees’ sense of safety, the Inspector found that a third of detainees at Brook House and Morton Hall IRCs, and almost half at Colnbrook IRC, said that they felt “unsafe.” Several factors accounted for this feeling, such as fear of removal, concern about the progress of their immigration cases, the behaviour of other detainees “frustrated at their confinement,” and lengthy indefinite detention.
- The Guardian, “Kent Inspectors Find Wet and Cold Migrants Held in Cramped Containers,” The Guardian, 23 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/23/kent-inspectors-find-wet-and-cold-migrants-held-in-cramped-containers
- Global Detention Project, “Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC),” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/united-kingdom/detention-centres/83/dungavel-house-immigration-removal-centre-irc
- X. Richards, “Dungavel: Covid Outbreak in Detention Centre Sparks Fresh Calls for Closure,” The National, 13 October 2020, https://www.thenational.scot/news/18791072.dungavel-covid-outbreak-detention-centre-sparks-fresh-calls-closure/
- M. McGivern, “Calls to Close Dungavel After Virus Outbreak in Immigration Detention Centre,” Daily Record, 13 October 2020, https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/calls-close-dungavel-detention-centre-22833455
- K. Hunter, “‘At Risk’ Adults Held at Dungavel Immigration Centre,” BBC, 28 May 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-48367896
- J. Ironmonger, “Coronavirus: UK Detention Centres ‘Emptied in Weeks’,” BBC, 7 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52560093
- BBC, “Child Refugees ‘Still Being Held’ at Dungavel Centre,” 1 June 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-48479102
- A. Thewliss et al, “Letter to the Home Secretary,” 19 October 2020, https://twitter.com/APPGDetention/status/1318222924126486529/photo/1
- UK Government, “Guidance: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Immigration Removal Centres,” Last updated 14 July 2020, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-and-immigration-removal-centres
- The Law Society, “Law Under Lockdown: The Impact of COVID-19 Measures on Access to Justice and Vulnerable People,” September 2020, https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/research/law-under-lockdown-the-impact-of-covid-19-measures-on-access-to-justice-and-vulnerable-people
- Tug Haven Facility Entrance in Dover, Kent, Where Migrants are Being Processed, (HMIP/PA, “Kent Inspectors Find Wet and Cold Migrants Held in Crampled Containers,” The Guardian, 23 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/23/kent-inspectors-find-wet-and-cold-migrants-held-in-cramped-containers)