Social Justice

Every damning detail from ex-border inspector's reports the Home Office didn't want you to see

The Home Office has been accused of 'burying' 13 long-unpublished reports on the state of the asylum and borders system. We picked out the uncomfortable details

David Neal's reports are damning for the Home Office

Frustrated that his reports had been sat on a shelf, David Neal was sacked for leaking unauthorised information to the media. Image: Parliament TV

Unaccompanied child asylum seekers are being looked after by staff without background checks. Afghan refugees are being refused asylum under secret criteria. Young asylum seekers are losing weight because they’re not being given suitable food. Delve into hundreds of pages of reports, tucked away on the Home Office’s website, and you’ll discover the shocking state of the UK’s immigration system.

Before he was sacked for – in his words “doing my job and what the law required of me” – chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal produced 13 reports, the damning results of a wave of inspections.

The Home Office coincidentally dumped them all on the eve of the high-profile Rochdale by-election, and just hours after the release of a long-awaited report into the murder of Sarah Everard, leading to accusations from Labour that the government is trying to “bury bad news”. Neal had previously complained of his reports not being published soon enough – and said this may have stopped poor immigration housing conditions being exposed.

Is it bad news for the government? Judge for yourself.

An ‘at all costs’ attempt from Home Office to clear asylum backlog resulted in ‘perverse outcomes’ for asylum seekers

When Rishi Sunak promised to clear the legacy asylum backlog by the end of 2023, it had wide consequences – or as Neal’s report puts it, “perverse outcomes.”

As The Big Issue has reported, newly-recognised refugees, not given enough time to find somewhere to live before eviction, were made homeless en masse. Our reporting has helped form the official picture of the crisis, with Neal writing: “This issue has received increasing coverage across several media outlets. An article published in the Big Issue magazine on 23 November 2023 presented data from 52 local authorities and provided comments from charities that demonstrated an ‘alarming spike in homeless refugees’, with almost 1,500 refugees assessed as being homeless between August and October 2023.”

This had an impact on staff, too. Neal’s inspectors found 60% of decision makers wanting to leave, with pressure to hit targets affecting their mental health

Some agency staff drafted in as “Tactical Support Teams” didn’t even know how to access emails. Neal also adds substance to growing claims that the government has allowed the backlog to grow for political reasons.

“The Home Office had allowed the asylum system to become a burning platform that required radical action and attracted significant ministerial and public scrutiny,” he writes.

The Home Office was running a ‘secret’ criteria to refuse Afghan refugees

Afghan asylum seekers were being denied refugee status based on an unpublished Home Office policy, Neal found, and “unknowingly failing to meet accommodation requirements” not mentioned in rules or policy.

“Home Office operation of an unpublished or ‘secret’ policy contrary to its published policy has been found to be unlawful in the past,” he wrote. “The lack of transparency regarding this policy may also undermine public confidence in Afghan resettlement schemes.”

Home Office staff were likely working with unaccompanied asylum seeking children without background checks

The Home Office doesn’t have a full picture of whether all staff working with unaccompanied asylum seeking children in hotels were background checked.

“This is really not good enough,” wrote Neal. “This is basic building block stuff, which is not being done well, in an area where I have made a clear recommendation before, under ministerial scrutiny and with significant public interest. It points to lack of grip and poor leadership in a critical area of business.”

“While staff are no longer residing in hotels, the Home Office still does not have a complete picture of the DBS clearances of all staff in hotels in 2023.”

In Northern Ireland, there was a similar situation for staff working in asylum hotels with families – some had not undergone training or checks, despite working with children and vulnerable adults for months.

Young people in asylum hotels are losing weight because they won’t eat culturally unfamiliar food

During an inspection of asylum hotels in Northern Ireland, Neal found children were losing weight because they wouldn’t eat culturally unfamiliar food.

“Food provision was consistently raised as an issue in terms of the quality of food and claims by families that it was not culturally appropriate,” Neal wrote. “This concern was supported by health professionals, who reported incidences of young children losing weight as they would not eat the unfamiliar food provided.”

With food not generally allowed in individual rooms, he also found children requiring milk before bed were facing issues.

“The lack of culturally appropriate food, in addition to families being unable to prepare and store their own food, were issues for families in most of the hotels visited,” Neal wrote.

A growing backlog of cannabis seizures at London Stansted Airport

Along with a crisis of identity among staff not quite on board with “Border Force” branding, staff at London Stansted Airport couldn’t deal with the volume of cannabis being seized.

“Inspectors were told of a large backlog of cannabis detections made by the Stansted freight team. Due to resource issues, Border Force had not been able to process these seizures immediately,” Neal wrote. “This backlog pointed to an organisation which was not equipped to process the quantity of prohibited and restricted goods it was detecting.”

Staff also encountered fentanyl while inspecting parcels.

Amid confusion over the Afghan resettlement scheme, staff accidentally gave British citizens refugee status

A lack of data meant the Home Office had no idea of the immigration status of new arrivals, and in some cases even granted refugee status to British nationals.

Neal wrote: “Eighteen months on from Op PITTING, the Home Office does not have a single accurate dataset and, on occasions, has resorted to contacting arrivals by phone to establish their immigration status, and inspectors even found that the Home Office granted indefinite permission to stay to British citizens in error. This is not good enough.”

Border staff could be wearing out-of-date body armour

If you were working a job where you could be shot, you’d want to know that your protection was up to scratch. Except, for Border Force, there’s no consistent way to know if your body armour has expired.

“There is no clear process to record the issue and expiry date of body armour or to ensure that it is fit for purpose,” Neal said.

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