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Inspection report published: An inspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats, including at Western Jet Foil and Manston (January – February 2023)

Commenting on the publication of the report, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, said:

When I inspected the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats at the Port of Dover early last year, I found an operation that was stretched to breaking point. More than three years after small boats began reaching UK shores in significant numbers, the Home Office was still too much in ‘crisis response’ mode, having failed to implement clear, consistent procedures and to establish suitable facilities for the task at hand.

The opening of a processing centre at Manston was meant to provide an answer to some of the shortcomings I observed, but when I visited that facility in October 2022, it was overcrowded and unsafe. I found that people were being accommodated in unacceptable conditions and detained for far longer than allowed under the Short-Term Holding Facility Rules. As I told the Home Affairs Select Committee at the time, I was shocked by what I saw.

In my inspection programme for 2022-23, I announced my intention to carry out a second inspection of the initial processing of those arriving by small boat, and on 8 December 2022, the Home Secretary commissioned me to include in my inspection an examination of improvements made at Manston following my visit there. Inspectors carried out this inspection during January and February of this year, and the report published today summarises my findings.

I did find in this inspection that the Home Office’s performance, and conditions at Manston, had improved significantly, albeit from a very low base. The call I made in my last inspection for a move from a ‘crisis’ response to a steady-state response had been heeded, and there had been a step change in the professionalism of the operation on the ground. Arrangements for governance and oversight of these important activities were much improved, and a capable leadership team with the knowledge, skills, and experience to run an operation of this scale was much more in evidence than at the time of my last inspection.

Having said that, it was clear that much remained to be done, and that the Home Office cannot afford to be complacent. At the time of the inspection, the work that was under way to upgrade facilities and consolidate operational practices at Manston was still very much ‘in progress’, rather than complete. The site was not ready to handle the high volumes of arrivals that might well be expected at busy times over the coming weeks and months, and the recent departure of the site director with experience as a prison governor had left a skills gap that needed filling.

The biggest single risk to the operation at Manston relates to the outflow of migrants following their initial processing. While changes to the rules governing detention and the development of a ‘Residential Holding Room’ at Manston will provide a degree of flexibility that was not available previously, the facility remains in danger of overcrowding if sufficient onward accommodation is not available – something that is beyond the control of those managing the site. While plans for housing on barges and ex-military sites have been announced, the capacity of these facilities will be limited. Worryingly, I have received no clear answer from senior officials or ministers as to where the tens of thousands of migrants expected this year will be accommodated.


The quality and reliability of the data being collected during the initial processing of migrants, and on which the Home Office relies, remains a major concern. In my 2022 inspection, I described this data as ‘inexcusably awful’. The situation remains woeful; even the most fundamental data cannot be relied upon. I was concerned to find that different sources of information that I examined gave different figures for the number of migrants held at Manston, and for the number transferred out of the facility, on a particular day. For example, based on the data I saw for 25 January 2023, the number of people in detention might have been as low as 321 or as high as 380, and the number moved on from the site was either 66 or 70. I will see whether data has improved when I next inspect.

In other respects, the picture is mixed. The Home Office now ensures that all migrants have their biometrics enrolled prior to leaving Manston, which was not happening previously, but that process is subject to delays due to reliability issues with the equipment. And some asylum screening interviews are now taking place there, though that only occurred in a minority of cases at the time of this inspection.

While the Home Office has taken positive steps to improve staff awareness of the importance of identifying and recording migrant vulnerabilities, the efforts of the new Small Boats Operational Command (SBOC) safeguarding team are hampered by limited resources, overstretched staff, and underdeveloped reporting mechanisms. Consequently, vulnerable migrants may be leaving Manston without adequate provision for safeguarding concerns. The inspection found that only 17% of Border Force staff were trained in how to recognise vulnerability. There were however no Border Force staff who had been Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checked, and only 50% of contractors had been.

Nevertheless, though it remains to be seen whether the Home Office will be sufficiently agile to recruit and train the staff it needs to respond safely and humanely to the challenges that it faces, I am more confident now that the department has started to get its act together. The elephant in the room is the question of why it has taken so long to get to this point.

The Home Office must get better at learning lessons from its past mistakes. The Home Office failed to transfer lessons identified at Napier Barracks during 2021 to Manston. It is imperative that the lessons of Manston are exported to the non-detained estate as well as future detention sites needed to meet the predicted increased requirement for detention beds resulting from the Illegal Migration Bill.

The inspection report makes three recommendations in relation to strategy, data, and training. The Home Office has accepted two of these recommendations, and partially accepted the recommendation that it publish a strategy for the processing of small boats arrivals, saying that it will develop such a strategy as an internal document.


The acceptance of my recommendations is welcome, but implementation will be far more important. Whilst the four recommendations from the previous small boats inspection were accepted in full by the Home Office, over a year on from that inspection, I consider that only the security recommendation has been delivered. There is some way to go to secure appropriately trained staff, and both the data and vulnerability recommendations remain incomplete.

Publication of this report comes just over two months after it was submitted to the Home Secretary. This is a significant improvement on last year, when it took the Home Office nearly five months to publish my first inspection report on the initial processing of small boat arrivals, but the department has still failed to meet its commitment to lay my reports in Parliament within eight weeks of submission. In office calls to the Home Secretary and to the Immigration Minister late last year, I forcefully made the point that the effective suppression of my reports through publication delays was unacceptable. Out of the 28 reports released during my tenure, only one has been published on time.

The delay in publishing of reports could have been addressed by Recommendation 10 of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, which called for a review of the role and remit of the ICIBI, with a view towards expanding the Chief Inspector’s powers. Following the Home Secretary’s announcement that the role and remit review would not be taken forward, I remain in the dark about the Home Office’s plans to pursue the intentions behind Recommendation 10.

I will reinspect Manston later in 2023 to see what further progress has been made and to assess the Home Office’s performance when faced with larger numbers of arrivals.

Link:, dated June 15, 2023 9:40 am

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