Priti Patel was warned of security risks before attack on asylum centre
The Home Office previously admitted it was under pressure to open new centres quickly even if locations were ‘unsafe’
The Home Office was warned about lax security and the risk of far-Right attacks at its facilities for housing asylum seekers – including the Kent centre that was firebombed this weekend.
In July, then home secretary Priti Patel was told by her own independent chief inspector, David Neal, that the Western Jet Foil facility in Dover that was attacked with petrol bombs on Sunday had a “poor level of security”.
Patel, who cancelled Neal’s six requests for meetings between March 2021 and September this year, was also warned in a separate report published in May about far-Right activity near temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.
That report reveals the Home Office was challenged over a potential far-Right threat at one hotel and responded that “they understand that [the location was unsafe], but that it had to open quickly”.
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The Home Office would not say what action, if any, it took following the warnings, other than having “continued to improve facilities at Western Jet Foil” since January.
Campaign group Hope Not Hate told openDemocracy it has recorded 165 incidents of far-Right groups, including Britain First, or anti-migrant activists harassing staff and migrants at hotels used by the Home Office in the past year.
Yesterday, a man threw petrol bombs attached to fireworks at the Western Jet Foil centre, which is used for registering asylum seekers after they arrive in the UK. Two people at the centre were injured and the suspect was later found dead at a nearby petrol station, with Dover MP Nathalie Elphicke saying she understood he had killed himself.
Kent Police, which is leading the investigation, said it is not treating the incident as terrorism, but has not yet established a motivation for the attack.
An operational manager of the centre previously told inspectors the security of the site was being compromised by the Home Office’s failure to quickly move migrants to a facility that provides accommodation.
“The site is not designed to hold migrants for extended periods, with only wooden benches and thin blankets available, a small number of toilets, and, until relatively recently, a limited ability to provide hot food,” Neal wrote of the centre in July.
The inspector was told migrants were being held for up to four days at Western Jet Foil, which Neal put down to the Home Office’s “refusal to transition from an emergency response to what has rapidly become steady state, or business as usual”.
A former government prison inspector said the situation was “a national disgrace”.
Nicholas Hardwick, who was the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales from 2010 to 2016, told openDemocracy: “The Home Office could have moved people out of the sites much more quickly than it’s doing at the moment. But, as I understand it, took a deliberate decision to cut off the pipeline.
“If you don’t do that, you get the sense of chaos and confusion that then creates tensions, although I wouldn’t want to, in any way, say that excuses or justifies what’s happened in terms of the attack,” he added.
Hardwick’s comments come after Patel’s successor, Suella Braverman, was accused of exacerbating the bottleneck by reportedly blocking the transfer of migrants from a temporary accommodation site at Manston Airport in Kent – where migrants are moved after being processed in Dover – to hotels.
The decision was intended to reduce the soaring cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels, which costs £6.8m per day, The Times reported. However, it led to overcrowding and outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria at the Manston site.
At one point this month, there were more than 3,000 asylum seekers being held at the site, three times its original capacity.
On Friday, openDemocracy reported that Braverman had refused to accept the recommendations of a two-year inquiry that blamed the Home Office's poor performance for the small boats crisis.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers extremely seriously and to suggest otherwise is completely wrong.
“Whenever we seek to use a site for asylum accommodation, we engage with the local police and other stakeholders to identify any community tensions.
“Reports of far-Right activity or a threat to an asylum seeker is immediately reported to the Home Office and followed up to ensure action is taken to protect their safety.”
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