Inspection of Border Force detention finds improvement but some serious concerns

By agency reporter
March 16, 2020

An inspection of immigration short-term holding facilities (STHFs) run by UK authorities at French ports found improved facilities and respectful care by detention staff, but also identified serious concerns about some aspects of the detainees’ experience.

There are two STHFs in Coquelles, within the secure perimeter of the Eurotunnel, one at Calais sea port and a fourth facility at Dunkerque. Border Force identifies clandestine travellers and those to be refused entry before they leave French territory.

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and their French counterparts inspected the facilities in November 2019. While all facilities had improved since a previous inspection in 2016, and detention staff were generally caring and helpful, the inspection found serious concerns around safeguarding and legality of detention.

The Coquelles tourist facility holds people travelling on coaches and cars. Around 270 people a month were detained there. A second holding room had been created for children and families to be kept separate from unrelated adults. The Coquelles freight facility holds people found hidden in commercial vehicles in the freight lanes. Approximately 30 detainees a month were detained in the freight holding facility, but an unknown number were also held in vehicles awaiting the arrival of the French border police, Police aux Frontières (PAF).

The Calais tourist facility is used to detain people travelling in cars and coaches boarding ferries to the UK. Detainees found in commercial vehicles in the Calais freight lanes are either transferred directly to PAF or held on vehicles, sometimes for considerable periods. Approximately 150 detainees a month were held in the Calais tourist facility. However, around 1,000 detainees had been held in escort vehicles in the three months before the inspection. The Dunkerque facility holds tourist and commercial travellers stopped at the border and about 160 detainees a month were held there.

All the detainees interviewed by inspectors were positive about their treatment by detention staff. However, a report on the inspection, published on 13 March 2020, noted serious concerns about some practices at both the Coquelles freight holding facility and in the Calais freight lanes, where people were detained on escort vehicles. “We were concerned,” the report noted, “that Border Force could not tell us the legal authority under which these detainees were held.”

Border Force staff in most facilities were alert to the signs of trafficking and aware of their safeguarding duties. However, at Coquelles freight inspectors observed weak safeguarding practices for children. They met a 17-year-old boy with an old gunshot injury who had been detained from a lorry and appeared unwell. Border Force failed to take sufficient action to ensure that the child’s best interests were considered. The boy was not treated in accordance with the child safeguarding policies of either the detention contractor, Mitie Care and Custody, or Border Force.

The report concludes that “Border Force should ensure that children, injured detainees and those held in vehicles are treated safely, decently and in accordance with the law.”

* Read the report here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

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