MP writes to Home Secretary Priti Patel after committee discovers 56 asylum seekers 'packed' into room at Kent Intake Unit in Dover

July 30, 2021

An MP has written to the home secretary after a committee discovered 56 asylum seekers, including babies and young children, "packed into a small waiting room" at an intake unit.

Chair of the home affairs select committee Yvette Cooper said in a letter to Priti Patel that she was writing to "raise serious concerns about the shocking conditions" found by MPs during a visit to the Kent Intake Unit in Dover.

The facility, where "detained asylum seekers wait for onward placement and screening", was described as "wholly inappropriate" by the MP.

She wrote: "There were 56 people packed into the small waiting room. The space is clearly unfit for holding this many people.

"Most people were sitting or lying on a thin mattress and those covered almost the entirety of the aisle between seats.

"Sharing these cramped conditions were many women with babies and very young children alongside significant numbers of teenage and young adult men", she added.

The MPs also found that despite 24 hours being the "maximum period of time" a person should be held in the holding room, some had been kept there for "periods of up to 36 and 48 hours".

Concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks have been raised as well, with Yvette Cooper saying in her letter that MPs saw the holding room had "no ventilation, no social distancing and face masks are not worn".

According to the MP, adult asylum seekers must have a lateral flow test and receive a negative result before entering the intake unit.

"However, it is well known that lateral flow tests are not 100% accurate and will not pick up cases that develop over the subsequent 48 hours," she said.

The committee also said it "did not observe any COVID-19 mitigation measures" and "could not see how the facility could be COVID safe" given the levels of overcrowding.

The MPs went on to visit the atrium facility as well, "where people wait when they are no longer in detention and awaiting onward travel".

In the letter, it is described as "essentially an office space with a large central room and several adjoining offices".

In June this year, Kent County Council stopped accepting unaccompanied child migrants and MPs heard that since then there have been "five stays of over 200 hours (10 days) in this office space and increasing numbers of multiple-day stays."

Ms Cooper noted that the permanent secretary had confirmed to the committee that an unaccompanied child was one of the individuals held in the facility for over 10 days.

She added: "One girl was sleeping on a sofa in an office, as the only available separate sleeping accommodation.

"For children, this kind of accommodation for days on end is completely inappropriate".

"It is extremely troubling that a situation has been allowed to arise, and persist, where vulnerable children, families and young people are being held in this manifestly inappropriate office space for days and even weeks."

Over 170 children have been transferred from Kent to another local authority since 14 June 2021.

A government spokesperson said: "The asylum system is being exploited by criminal gangs who facilitate dangerous, unnecessary and illegal small boat crossings.

"Our Nationality and Borders bill will fix this broken system and deter these dangerous and illegal crossings.

"To meet our legal duties temporary accommodation is being used to house asylum-seeking children in safe and secure accommodation before placements can take place through the National Transfer Scheme.

"The Home Office continue to work with all local authorities as well as the Department for Education to ensure needs are met."

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