Border Force staff offered grief counselling amid mounting post traumatic stress concerns 8 months ago

Border Force staff offered grief counselling amid mounting post traumatic stress concerns

EXCLUSIVE: UK Border Force Staff  policing the English Channel are 'struggling to cope' and experiencing 'mental distress'

Mental health first aiders are helping Border Force in Dover deal with the heartbreak and tragedy unfolding in the Channel after 27 refugees lost their lives making the perilous journey to Britain last week.

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Alongside the first aiders, a permanent counsellor has been stationed in Tug Haven to assist staff policing the waters, PoliticsJOE can reveal.

It is not known exactly how long mental health support has been offered to Border Force staff but the union representing them, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), said it is a "fairly recent development". 

Read more: 'It's England or die' - life inside the refugee camps in northern France

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The safeguarding comes as Border Force staff in Dover have told of suffering "night terrors" and mounting emotional distress after witnessing overturned boats in the middle of the English channel. Five women and a girl were among the dead in the latest tragedy, France's Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, has said.

Post-traumatic stress - the most severe mental health stress response - is a real concern for the PCS and at present, those on the front line of the refugee crisis are not offered treatment for it.

Almost 26,000 people are believed to have arrived in Britain this year after crossing what is widely considered the busiest shipping lane in the world. In 2018, the number was just 299. 

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PoliticsJOE travelled to Kent to investigate the crisis last week and met one Border Force official near the beach in Dungeness, where rescued refugees are brought after making the crossing.

The employee, who did not want to be named, said he had seen children as young as four on small boats packed with as many as 30 people. Another described experiencing “night terrors” having witnessed an overturned boat in the middle of the English channel.

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In September, several media outlets were briefed on plans for Border Force staff to “push back” prospective asylum seekers into French waters, igniting fears that further tragedies were inevitable.  

The Home Secretary is currently facing three legal challenges over the plan, which charity Freedom from Torture says would authorise unlawful conduct forbidden by the refugee convention. The charity has written to Patel over her plans. 

 

The Border Force employee told PoliticsJOE it was well-known that migrants will not accept help in French waters in fear they could be sent back to France. This, he said, meant Patel’s “push back” plan could lead to more deaths.

Asked if Border Force will enforce the policy, one employee told PoliticsJOE he’d rather lose his job. 

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The PCS has launched a legal challenge against the “unlawful, unworkable and above all morally reprehensible” policy.

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PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our border force members are aghast at the thought they will be forced to implement such a cruel and inhumane policy.”

The union is also becoming increasingly concerned about the welfare of Border Force staff who currently are not offered treatment for post-traumatic stress. 

Kevin Mills, the Assistant group secretary for Border Force at the PCS said the only route is through military service.

If members of Border Force have not served in the military, they do not qualify for the support.

A spokesperson for the Home Office confirmed Border Force staff were provided with mental health support, saying: "Our Border Force staff work day and night to prevent horrific incidents like this from occurring, and for those working in such demanding and distressing situations we, of course, provide additional support".

The spokesperson said the mental health first aiders deployed to Tug Haven, "can refer to counselling services if needed, as well as Employee Assistance Programme counsellor stationed there in person for anyone who needs help".