The lines of lorries and caravans snaking down to the ferry in
Dover are familiar sights but if you walk alongside the traffic and
go down a side passageway a lesser seen function of the port is in
operation, writes Amy Taylor.
Along with customs and excise and passport control Dover docks
is also home to Migrant Helpline’s reception service for
The charity started out in 1964 and began by helping those in
distress at channel ports but as people started to enter the UK to
claim asylum in the 80s it
changed its tack. It now receives the majority of its funding from
the Home Office and runs a number of services for asylum seekers
including the induction service at Dover.
This aims to help asylum seekers from their point of arrival,
letting them know about what is going to happen to them and the
procedures involved. Julie Larner, assistant development manager at
the charity, explains how around 10-14 days usually pass from the
beginning of the induction process to when asylum seekers leave
Kent and are dispersed around the country.
The group are provided with emergency accommodation by the charity
in one of three venues at Dover, Margate and Ashford during this
time and the service is only available for families and adults with
unaccompanied minors being the responsibility of social
The exterior of Cliffe Court, the emergency accommodation in
Dover, looks swish and is reminiscent of the rows of Georgian
terraces on Brighton seafront but once inside, although entirely
adequate for its purpose, any claims that asylum seekers are being
given better housing than local people would not stand up.
Larner explains how the Dover accommodation used to be in a
different location on a main road which was referred to by the
locals as “Asylum Alley”.
The three accommodation venues have strict rules requiring
asylum seekers to sign in to prove their presence. Larner explains
that if they are absent for two nights or more they go down as
having gone AWOL and the National Asylum Support Service are
informed. The group can have their support terminated if they break
the rules. “They [NASS] see it as making yourself voluntarily
homeless,” Larner explains.
As well as its base in Kent the charity’s other head
office is in Croydon, South London – where the Immigration and
Nationality Directorate is based. Larner explains that new arrivals
who present themselves at Croydon are brought down to Kent every
couple of days as there are no induction facilities up there. She
says that the locals have coined another phrase terming this
“bussing people in” and that eventually reception
facilities will be available in Croydon.
The induction process is not compulsory. “If somebody comes
and they say I want to go and stay with a relative in Manchester we
check that that person is happy to look after them then the person
can go,” says Larner. She adds that contrary to the
impression given by certain quarters of the media only a small
number of people go missing.
The process begins with each client being given a reception pack
containing their NASS form, a diary in which to mark all of their
appointments over the next few days and information on dispersal
from the Home Office. A Migrant Helpline caseworker and an
interpreter then help them to put their details and any special
needs they may have onto the form. At 13 pages it’s easy to
see why assistance is required. Larner explains that the facility
has a close relationship with the NASS team based in Dover and that
a team member comes in every day to collect the forms enabling any
problems to be discussed swiftly.
The next stage involves an orientation briefing followed by the
screening of a DVD produced by the Home Office. This covers asylum
seekers’ rights and responsibilities, the asylum process and
the support available to them.
It also takes asylum seekers through the differences between
NASS, the immigration authorities and charities. “Because
NASS don’t have a public face it’s hard for the clients
to make the distinction,” explains Larner.
There is a lot to take in and to help their understanding
clients are given time to ask questions after the screening.
The final part of the process involves a dispersal briefing and
another chance to watch the DVD on the day before people leave.
Larner explains that all of the briefings and the advice from
Migrant Helpline workers is classed as contact time and each asylum
seeker is allowed to receive up to five hours 45 minutes each.
“We see dispersal as a positive thing,” says Larner.
She explains that asylum seekers can make special requests
regarding dispersal and that the authorities will do their best to
accommodate them but that they are not guaranteed. She explains
how some asylum seekers have requested to go to Liverpool because
they have seen the film Titanic while others have requested
Manchester due its famous football team. On a more serious note she
adds that if asylum seekers have family connections in certain
parts of the country then NASS takes that into account.
The efficient well organised service offered by the charity must
be a relief for asylum seekers arriving disorientated and exhausted
from their journeys. For them the induction process is the first
stage in the lengthy process of claiming asylum which, for many,
will ultimately end in disappointment.