Migrants crossing the Channel in small boats in the summer of 2021 were initially held in tents and portacabins on a car park that were overstretched and “manifestly unsuitable for holding detainees overnight”, according to independent monitors in thier report published today.

The facilities at the Tug Haven, beside a jetty in Dover Western Docks, were assessed by the Dover Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) as not a suitable environment to hold children or vulnerable people. Some migrants were also held on a double-decker bus parked at the site.

The daily flow of hundreds of migrants included families and unaccompanied minors and, the Board warned, child welfare was put at risk across the wider set of detention facilities in Dover and Folkestone, to which migrants were eventually transferred from the Tug Haven.

“The holding facilities in Dover and Folkestone are unsuitable for the numbers of detainees arriving and should be expanded or replaced as a matter of urgency,” the Board said in reports published today.


The Home Office does not class the Tug Haven as a place of immigration detention, calling it an initial reception facility used as a short-term measure. But such were the numbers coming across the Channel in 2021 – more than in the summer of 2020 – that many people were held there overnight.


The Board said the flow of small boat migrants should have been predicted after the experience of recent years. During the summer of 2021, there were a number of occasions when over 500 people were estimated to have arrived in a single day, including one day in August 2021 when over 800 people were received.


Concerns about the Tug Haven in 2021 are reported in an annexe to the main Dover IMB report, covering two Kent short-term holding facilities, the Kent Intake Unit in Dover and Frontier House in Folkestone. The main report says: “The short-term detention holding rooms in Dover and Folkestone are unsuitable for the large number of people now held there, and the welfare of children is put at risk by the practice of holding unaccompanied under-18s in the same room as adults who are not family members.”

The Board has also been able to monitor the Tug Haven initial reception facility since June 2021. It said in the annexe: “The Tug Haven reception facility is intended as a short-term measure to hold migrants when they first arrive across the Channel, prior to being taken to other locations. However, with several hundred people often arriving in a single day, many migrants now stayed at the facility overnight, sleeping on the floor of a tent without sleeping mats.”

The Board raised particular concerns about the safeguarding of children in the holding rooms and the identification of vulnerability at the Tug Haven

  • In 2020, the number of unaccompanied minors (696) almost doubled from the previous year; by the second half of 2020, Kent County Council could no longer take minors into its care
  • In Frontier House at Folkestone there is no separate space for children or families.
  • Due to capacity issues, there are instances where unaccompanied children are being held in small spaces with adults they do not know
  • Failures in age assessment have meant that under-18s have been mistakenly transported to immigration removal centres (IRCs)
  • The mounting pressure on staff increases the likelihood of issues of vulnerability being missed, or not considered in enough depth.


The Board further noted that whilst brief medical checks took place at the Tug Haven, there were instances where migrants had been transferred to IRCs without serious health issues or injuries having been identified.

Food at the Tug Haven was insufficient or improvised and there was no running water and no provision for washing. Since the finalising of the Board’s report, sleeping mats have been introduced at the Tug Haven (late September 2021).

On a more positive note, Board members witnessed caring and supportive interactions between staff and detainees. Detainees have spoken positively to Board members of the way they have been treated, and “staff should be commended for the calm and respectful approach observed by the Board, particularly given the pressurised and difficult circumstances in which they are working.”

Dover IMB Chair William Baker said: ‘The Board has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of people held in unsuitable conditions where adults and children may be held for over 24 hours.

“Migrants are initially held in an overstretched facility at the docks, with unsatisfactory arrangements for food, sleeping or washing. They are then transferred to other locations, which can include holding rooms in Dover and Folkestone which are also not designed to cope with these numbers. It is clear that more and better provision is urgently needed.”

He added: ‘Given how long the situation with small boat arrivals has continued, it is surprising that the Home Office still has such inadequate facilities for properly managing the care of children, that elderly and vulnerable people have been sleeping on mats on the floor, that medical support has not been expanded and that there are still no proper washing facilities at the overflow room in Folkestone. The Board has observed some small improvements over the summer, but they have not gone far enough to address these challenges.