Two-thirds of UK asylum seekers on small boats had hypothermia or injuries | Immigration and asylum

Two-thirds of UK asylum seekers arriving by small boat after crossing the Channel were suffering from hypothermia, according to Home Office data obtained by the Guardian, while hundreds had burns or suspected broken bones.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, has repeatedly condemned the new arrivals, who crossed in record numbers last year, urging them to remain in other European countries. Those fleeing persecution say they have no other choice but to undertake the hours-long journeys in dinghies because there are no alternative “safe and legal routes”.

Freedom of Information data for the period January to June 2021, when about 6,000 people crossed the Channel in small boats according to analysis by the Press Association, shows that 4,075 were suffering hypothermia , a dangerous drop in body temperature, when they reached the Kent coast.

Some 354 people had petrol or saltwater burns sustained on the journey and 27 were taken to hospital with suspected broken bones shortly after arriving.

A migrant family is helped ashore at the marina in Dover after being picked up from a small boat. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

The Home Office initially rejected the Guardian’s request under the Freedom of Information Act but later agreed to provide data answering some questions for a limited period of six months.

Data for the whole of 2021 would likely show many more cases of poor health. In 2021, 28,381 people were recorded as arriving by small boat, up from 8,500 in 2020, 1,800 in 2019 and 300 in 2018. In January 2022, there were 1,341 arrivals, a sixfold increase on the same month last year.

Last November at least 27 people drowned while trying to cross the Channel in a flimsy vessel; last week the French coastguard rescued 36 people.

Independent inspectors raised concerns about the standard of reception facilities in Kent for small boat arrivals in a report in December, including fears for a girl with a fuel burn which was neglected for two days after arrival, leaving her scarred for life.

Asylum seekers are currently processed at Western Jet Foil in Dover following the closure of the nearby Tug Haven facility. According to the Independent, the Immigration Service Union has raised concerns about facilities there, including narrow benches and concrete floors.

A new facility for small boat arrivals is due to open this week at Manston, a former military base in Kent, which can process 300 people, the BBC said.

Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, a charity that works with asylum seekers on both sides of the Channel, condemned the lack of safe and legal routes for people to claim asylum in the UK.

“To find out that so many crossing in small boats are suffering hypothermia and nasty injuries when none of this is necessary is deeply upsetting. It’s time we offered refugees a safe way to make their asylum claims without risking their lives.”

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Service Union, said the condition people arrived in after crossing the Channel in small boats was not only traumatic for those suffering hypothermia or other injuries but also for Border Force staff.

“It absolutely adds to the pressure that staff are under,” she said. “When you have a child in your arms who is covered in fuel burns you take that vicarious trauma home with you. The pressure on staff is very difficult psychologically.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “People should seek asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making these dangerous and unnecessary journeys. We have measures in place to ensure people arriving in the UK via small boats are treated appropriately, this includes onsite medical care and water. Anyone in need of urgent care is immediately transferred to a local hospital.”

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