This post is being updated with reports of atrocities around the army camp accommodation, and other Home Office plans to accommodate people in new sites:
Updated 24 February 2021: Home Affairs Select Committee: Home Secretary questioned on the work of the department
[Extract] Q94 Stuart C. McDonald: Good morning to our witnesses. I want to turn now to the issue of asylum accommodation, particularly contingency accommodation, including military barracks. Mr Rycroft, can I ask you first about some of the advice and research the Home Office has done? We have received a lot of evidence that the military barracks are in pretty disgraceful conditions and that there are wider problems with contingency accommodation, so I want to dig down into what the Home Office relies on when it disputes that evidence. For example, could I ask about the following documents and whether they are publicly available? There is an equality impact assessment about the use of barracks that has featured in the newspapers. Is that publicly available?
Matthew Rycroft: First of all, let me assure the Committee that the Home Office takes our statutory obligations extremely seriously. We have a statutory obligation to provide accommodation for all asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute in this country, and we do provide that. We have a variety of different ways of providing that accommodation, whether it is through what we call dispersal accommodation or some of the contingency accommodation, which includes hotels, former student accommodation and, in two cases, former military barracks. Let me say that both the two barracks in question have recently housed members of the British armed forces—
Q95 Stuart C. McDonald: Several years ago. In fairness, I think we know all this. The equality impact assessment that was done before using those two barracks—is that in the public domain?
Matthew Rycroft: We do not routinely publish equality impact assessments. That is a case-by-case decision each time. We will look again at whether we can publish this one.
Q96 Stuart C. McDonald: It would be very helpful for the Committee to see that, if we could. There is also reference in the newspapers to advice from Public Health England from 7 September that suggested that dormitory accommodation would be completely inappropriate during the pandemic. Is that advice in the public domain, or would you be willing to send it to the Committee?
Matthew Rycroft: Just to clarify, Public Health England did not say it would be completely inappropriate. In fact, they give us advice on how to make dormitory-style and other shared accommodation covid-safe. It is that advice which we have followed to the letter.
Q97 Stuart C. McDonald: Can we see that, then? Because that does not really tally with the understanding we have of it through the newspapers. The newspapers may well be wrong, but how are we supposed to do our job unless we can see that advice?
Matthew Rycroft: There is all sorts of advice that you can see. There are also court cases ongoing which it would be wrong of me to prejudice.
Q98 Stuart C. McDonald: Would you be willing to share that advice from 7 September with us?
Matthew Rycroft: We can certainly have to have a look at that, but, as I say, it would be wrong to prejudice any ongoing judicial proceedings.
Q99 Stuart C. McDonald: Okay. More broadly, there was an independent review of asylum accommodation carried out, I think, by Human Applications. Is that going to be shared with the Committee or published?
Matthew Rycroft: Again, it was private advice to help us back at the time when we were setting up this additional asylum accommodation—
Q100 Stuart C. McDonald: Okay. And the review of what happened in Glasgow—is that going to be published? That is something the Committee has asked to see previously.
Matthew Rycroft: It is the same answer, Mr McDonald. We can have a look at it case by case. We would not routinely make these things public, because they are private advice, but we can look at them case by case.
Q101 Stuart C. McDonald: You see the problem, Home Secretary, is that we have an abundance of evidence that has come from lots of reliable organisations telling us that there are huge problems in contingency accommodation, particularly in these barracks. The Home Office says, “No, it’s all fine,” but then offers nothing to us to prove that is the case, or on how it has been reassured that that is the case.
Priti Patel: First of all, Mr McDonald, I know the Chair of the Committee has been in touch with the Home Office and written to us about institutional accommodation. It is really important first of all to put this within the context of the coronavirus pandemic and how contingency accommodation has been stood up throughout the pandemic. It applies to other aspects of Government as well in terms of finding accommodation. What I can say—Matthew, our permanent secretary, has already said this—is that it is right that we work with independent organisations in the way in which we do, but also with Public Health England. That advice is not static advice. Just in terms of the maintenance of our accommodation estate, we are constantly working with Public Health England.
Now, I recognise and fully appreciate the individuals who have come to the Committee and given their views and their advice, but some of the information that has been put in the public domain is incorrect. The permanent secretary has also made it abundantly clear that we do have court cases taking place right now. So inevitably we will provide information where we can. We will certainly write back to the Chair and the Committee about our plans around contingency accommodation, exit and recovery plans, and working with local authorities, because this is not for the Home Office alone.
Q102 Stuart C. McDonald: If you could write, that would be helpful. When the permanent secretary appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in October, he confirmed that it was a goal of the Home Office to move away, again, from the use of barracks and hotels as contingency accommodation and back to the model of community dispersal. Is that the plan, Home Secretary—to get away from this as soon as possible?
Priti Patel: We do want to move out of hotel accommodation, yes.
Q103 Stuart C. McDonald: And military barracks?
Priti Patel: This is contingency accommodation that has been adapted and stood up—
Q104 Stuart C. McDonald: To be clear, your answer suggests that you have no intention of closing the military barracks.
Priti Patel: This is not about closing military barracks. I think we should look at this within the context of Government estate and Government accommodation. It is right that we look at Government estate and Government accommodation as potential contingency accommodation for asylum seekers. I think the public would expect that. This is not just about an automatic default position of putting people into hotels—
Q105 Stuart C. McDonald: I think the public will be horrified that you appear to be saying that you are going to continue using military barracks to accommodate asylum seekers, yet we are not getting any information or justification for that. No evidence is provided to us. The evidence that we have seen is horrific. I cannot believe that it is not part of the plan to close military barracks accommodation.
Priti Patel: As the permanent secretary has said already this morning, this is military accommodation that has housed our servicemen and women, and it has housed servicemen and women recently.
Q106 Stuart C. McDonald: If you were to put military personnel there now, it is you who are insulting our servicemen, not folk who criticise it.
Priti Patel: Not at all—
Stuart C. McDonald: It’s apples and oranges anyway.
Priti Patel: If I may finish and answer the question, we will continue to look at Government estate. It is right that the Government have a wide footprint in terms of estate. It is not just about barracks. Matthew has already said that there are other facilities that we will look at, and we will also adapt them. Napier and Penally have been adapted in line with and in light of Public Health England guidance. That is absolutely the right thing to do, and as I have said—
Stuart C. McDonald: If you could write. We only have another 30 seconds or so.
Priti Patel: [Inaudible] and Public Health England, absolutely to make sure that we have the right kind of accommodation in place. I will, of course, as you have already heard me say, respond to the letter from the Chair of the Committee, which was very specific about institutional accommodation.
Updated 21 February 2021: Guardian: Asylum seekers ‘subjected to sexual harassment’ in government hotels
Home Office urged to investigate allegations, including unsafe living conditions, while staff say they are paid below the legal wage
The Home Office has been urged to investigate the network of hotels holding thousands of asylum seekers following allegations of sexual harassment, intimidation and claims that staff have been paid significantly below the minimum wage.
A joint investigation by the Observer and ITV News suggests privately contracted staff at some asylum hotels have been paid little over £5.50 an hour.
Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee, has called on the Home Office to investigate if the private firms running the hotels are “fit for purpose”.
Among the investigation’s findings are that asylum seekers have been unlawfully threatened by private contractor staff that the police will be called if they leave their hotel.
Updated 17 February 2021: Guardian: Inside Napier: the former army barracks housing asylum seekers
The Guardian’s home affairs correspondent, Jamie Grierson, discusses the government’s decision to use two former army barracks, Napier and Penally, to house up to 600 vulnerable asylum seekers. Amid allegations of cover-ups, poor access to healthcare and legal advice, and crowded conditions, one former resident describes the impact Napier had on him
Matin (a pseudonym) tells Anushka Asthana about his stay in Napier, a former army barracks near Folkestone, Kent. Within days of getting there he contracted scabies and later Covid-19. After a fire in one of the housing blocks, there was no heating for days.
The Guardian’s home affairs correspondent, Jamie Grierson,examines why the government has decided to use two former army barracks, Napier and Penally in Wales, to house up to 600 vulnerable asylum seekers. The barracks, run by the private contractor Clearsprings, have been criticised for their crowded conditions, limited access to healthcare and legal advice and, more recently, a significant Covid-19 outbreak infecting more than one in four of the 400 residents at Napier.
Anushka also talks to Dr Jill O’Leary, the lead doctor with the Helen Bamber Foundation’s medical advisory service, who describes the enormous mental health strain that conditions at the barracks have had on the asylum seekers forced to stay there.
Updated 15 February 2021: Guardian: Napier barracks not suitable for accommodation, experts found
Seven-year-old report concluded buildings used to house asylum seekers were not for long-term use
A former army barracks used to house asylum seekers did not “meet acceptable standards of accommodation” when it was surveyed by planning and environmental experts seven years ago, it has emerged.
A report on Napier barracks, near Folkestone, Kent, filed by CgMs Consulting, now part of the RPS Group, concluded that “the buildings were never intended for long-term use” and converting the housing blocks on the site was an “unsuitable approach”.
The report was submitted to Folkestone and Hythe district council in 2014 as part of a planning application by the housebuilder Taylor Wimpey, which in September 2020 was granted planning permission to demolish Napier barracks and build 355 houses.
Updated 11 February 2021: Church leaders call for Government to stop housing asylum seekers in barracks
Church leaders from across different denominations have written an an open-letter to the Home Secretary about asylum seekers housing.
The Bishop of Durham was joined by several Anglican bishops and Christian leaders from across the country.
Full text below.
Dear Secretary of State,
We have watched with growing concern events unfold at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent and are extremely concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers housed across Ministry of Defence sites.
As you know, in the absence of safe and legal routes to apply for refugee status outside the UK, many have no choice but to make a dangerous and perilous journey to seek safety from conflict, persecution, and violence. After such a traumatic journey, having had to often spend time behind wire fences in refugee camps, it is simply insensitive to house people in such environments. In a global pandemic it is nothing short of irresponsible and risks the lives of residents and staff alike. Even as a temporary measure, ex-military barracks are unfit for purpose and entirely inappropriate. Requiring members from different households to use and live in shared facilities greatly increases the risk of infection and residents cannot be held responsible for virus transmission rates when social distancing is not possible.
We are therefore calling for an immediate end to the use of military barracks as accommodation for those seeking sanctuary in the UK. It is not a fair or justified response to your legal duty to house asylum seekers who would otherwise become destitute. We understand it is the Government’s intention to move all individuals in contingency accommodation into suitable dispersed accommodation as soon as reasonably practical. Can you therefore confirm that the Home Office will not expand the use of military barracks for contingency accommodation and whether the Government will set out a timeline for their closure.
We do appreciate the unprecedented pressures the Government is facing to provide accommodation to those who are awaiting a determination of their status, following the welcome decision not to evict people from asylum accommodation through a period of the pandemic. However, a long term sustainable action plan has to be put in place to secure suitable, dignified dispersal accommodation. Steps to speed up accurate processing of asylum applications will also reduce pressure on the system.
Our shared faith as signatories to this letter, leads us to view all human beings as equal and deserving of respect, dignity and welcome. We have witnessed at first hand, the generous welcome provided by civic and faith groups to those seeking protection. When asylum seekers are housed within communities, it allows for better integration and access to support services. Asylum seekers are often no longer seen as “other” but as neighbours and friends. It is in this environment that asylum seekers physical and mental wellbeing can be protected, and they are also able to better engage with their asylum application.
We ask that the Government continue to work constructively with local authorities, devolved administrations and support organisations to secure sufficient and appropriate dispersal accommodation in local communities and to end the use of barracks as a matter of urgency. We look forward to hearing your response to the issues raised.
The Bishop of Durham, The Rt Revd Paul Butler
Cardinal Vincent Nichols Archbishop of Westminster and President of Churches Together in England
Rt Revd Paul McAleenan Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
The Bishop of London, The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London
Hugh Osgood Free Churches President of Churches Together in England
Revd Dr Paul Goodliff BA MTh General Secretary, Churches Together in England
The Bishop of Loughborough, The Rt Revd Dr Gulnar (Guli) Francis-Dehqani BA MA PhD
The Bishop Rt of Dover and the Bishop in Canterbury, The Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin
The Bishop of Bradwell, The Rt Revd Dr John Perumbalath Chair of Churches Refugee Network in Britain and Ireland
The Bishop of Bristol, The Rt Revd Vivienne Faull
The Bishop of Reading, The Rt Revd Olivia Graham
The Bishop of Croydon, The Rt Revd Jonathan Clark
The Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Revd Steven Croft
The Bishop of Worcester, The Rt Revd Dr John Inge
The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun
The Bishop of Gloucester, The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek
The Bishop of Leeds, The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines Pastor Agu Irukwu, Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Pastor Jesus House President of Churches Together in England
Most Revd Father Oluwole A Abiola, OBE President, Council of African and Caribbean Churches UK
The Revd Clare Downing Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church
The Revd Richard Teal President of the Methodist Conference 2020/2021
Mrs Carolyn Lawrence Vice-President of the Methodist Conference 2020/2021
Dorothy Kendrick President, Independent Methodist Connexion of Churches Commissioner Anthony Cotterill Territorial Leader for The Salvation Army in the UK and Republic of Ireland
Revd Judith Morris General Secretary, Baptist Union of Wales
Revd Meirion Morris General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Wales
Revd Dan Yarnell The Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland
Roberta Hoey Chair of the Provincial Board for the Moravian Church in Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Rev Trevor Howard BA(Hons), QTS, MA (Urban Ed), MTh. Executive Vice-Chair of the Board of Churches in Communities International
Mr David Lockett Chair of Trustees, on behalf of the Trustees of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.
Rev Luke Larner Chaplain of the Red Letter Christians UK network
Domenica Pecoraro Kent Refugee Projects Officer, Diocese of Canterbury
The Revd Gareth Jones Diocesan Refugee Coordinator, Diocese of Chelmsford
Revd Simeon Oladokun Superintendent of Christ Apostolic Church, UK and Regional Secretary of CAC Europe
Updated 10 February 2021: An inspection of contingency asylum accommodation – visits to Penally Camp and Napier Barracks
Inspectors from ICIBI and HMI Prisons are visiting both sites during the week beginning 15 February.Published 10 February 2021From:Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
In line with S.52(2) of the UK Borders Act 2007, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) has sought the assistance of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) with ICIBI’s inspection of contingency asylum accommodation, specifically Penally Camp and Napier Barracks, Folkestone.
HMIP’s involvement will enable ICIBI’s inspection to progress at pace, without having to divert resources from other ‘live’ inspections, and it will also mean that ICIBI can benefit from HMIP’s knowledge and experience of inspecting large institutional settings, particularly during the current pandemic.
Inspectors from ICIBI and HMIP are planning to visit both sites during the week of 15 February.
The inspection visits will comprise:
- interviews with accommodation service provider staff and any other persons providing onsite services to the residents
- interviews with residents
- a review of relevant locally-held documentary evidence (e.g. local rules, information, risk assessments, complaints logs, etc.)
- an assessment of the premises and onsite facilities
- separate short surveys of staff and residents (distributed in advance of the visits).
Following the site visits, HMIP will produce a written report of its findings which will be appended to ICIBI’s inspection report for publication by the Home Secretary in due course. As with all ICIBI inspections, the Independent Chief Inspector will raise any matters requiring urgent attention with the Home Office, or directly with ministers, in advance of submitting his full inspection report.
The ‘call for evidence’ for this inspection closes on Friday 19 February 2021.
Updated 9 February 2021: HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Asylum accommodation inspection
In the week beginning 15 February 2021, HMI Prisons inspectors will visit Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent and Penally Camp in Pembrokeshire. These sites are currently being used as asylum accommodation.
HMI Prisons is assisting the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), who is currently conducting an inspection of contingency asylum accommodation. A statement outlining key findings from the visits will be published on our website in the weeks following the inspection. HMI Prisons will send a full report to the ICIBI, to be appended to his full report when it is published.
David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is not tasked to inspect detention centres, but the Prison Inspector is – so working together, they will be more effective in finding out what has been happening.
Temporary accommodation at Yarl’s Wood removal centre will not be used after criticism:
The Home Office has abandoned controversial plans to house nearly 200 asylum seekers in what campaigners have described as a “prison-style” camp on the site of an immigration removal centre.
Government officials originally planned to move the asylum seekers into portable buildings adjacent to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire at the end of last year. Tents were to be erected for preparing and serving food. But in a significant U-turn, the Home Office is no longer proceeding with the plans.
[See report from the Guardian on 16 January 2021 that a ‘letter before action’ was sent]
Updated 8 February 2021: Independent: Immigration minister denies asylum barracks ‘public health disaster’ despite over 100 Covid cases at site
Chris Philp claims military camps housing refugees ‘appropriate and suitable’ and ‘good value for money’
Challenged by opposition MPs about the conditions in Napier Barracks, a disused Ministry of Defence (MoD) site in Folkestone, Kent which was repurposed to house hundreds of asylum seekers in September, Chris Philp claimed the facility was “appropriate and suitable”. Read more: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/asylum-seekers-barracks-coronavirus-home-office-b1799263.html
Home Affairs Committee extract
3 Febryary 2021: Home Affairs Committee – extract from transcript: Oral evidence: Home Office preparedness for Covid-19, HC 232
Examination of witnesses: Witnesses: Lorna Gledhill, Dr Jill O’Leary [GP Medical Advisory Service, Helen Bamber Foundation] and Theresa Schleicher.
Q938 Chair: We are going to move to our second panel, looking at some of the issues around the provision of institutional accommodation, both detention and asylum accommodation, during the covid crisis. I welcome our second panel today: Lorna Gledhill, the deputy director of Asylum Matters; Dr Jill O’Leary, from the GP medical advisory service of the Helen Bamber Foundation; and Theresa Schleicher, casework manager at Medical Justice. Thank you very much for your time. We very much welcome you today.
Can I start by asking for your understanding of covid outbreaks that are happening at the moment in either detention centres or asylum accommodation, starting with Lorna Gledhill?
Lorna Gledhill: I would probably advise that you move quite quickly over to Jill from Helen Bamber, who I think will have a much better understanding of any covid outbreak in institutional accommodation. In the broader estate, I am not aware of any currently.
Dr O’Leary: Thank you so much for having me. I can speak to the current covid outbreak that is happening in the Napier Army Barracks in Kent. On 25 January, as we knew it, 120 out of the 390 residents there had tested positive for covid, which is understandably extremely concerning. Some of those residents have had the opportunity to move out of the barracks into more suitable accommodation where they would be able to safely self-isolate, but as we speak today there are still many people who have tested positive for covid-19 who are sharing close quarters with people who are not currently unwell with covid.
I can speak a little about the unsuitability of the barracks from a covid-19 perspective if you would like me to now. As we understand it, both Napier and Penally Barracks are not covid-compliant. We would say that, from a public health perspective, the practice of placing people in barracks during the pandemic is unacceptable. We are aware that numerous people have been transferred into the barracks from around the country—local authority areas where there have been very high rates of infection. They were then moved into the barracks at very little notice and not given any opportunity to self-isolate before sharing dorms with up to 28 other people. Furthermore, there aren’t any adequate facilities on site for people to self-isolate, should they develop symptoms. You’ll understand that that has created an unacceptable risk for both residents and staff.
The outbreak at Napier Barracks has massive implications for transmission to the wider community. I spoke to a resident at the Napier Barracks; I did a remote clinical assessment of him because he was displaying symptoms of covid-19 but hadn’t been able to access the result of his test. He was sharing a dormitory with up to 28 other people, one of whom had a confirmed positive test, was advised to go back into the dorm with the same people and wasn’t able to self-isolate.
Some of the residents were so frightened that they slept in the dorm with the door open, to allow for ventilation. You can imagine how that would feel in January. Some of the residents have opted to sleep outside with duvets rather than share dorms. Unsurprisingly, the man I spoke to on the phone later developed symptoms consistent with covid-19.
Q939 Chair: The Home Office say that they have made this accommodation covid-compliant. How can that possibly be the case, if there are 28 people sharing a dormitory?
Dr O’Leary: From what we have seen from the volunteers who are volunteering with Care4Calais and from our remote assessments of residents in the barracks, I can confidently say that they are not covid-19-compliant. The very existence of the outbreak at Napier would serve to contradict that statement.
There are up to 28 people sharing a dorm. Beyond that, there are shared lavatory and shower facilities, which are supposed to cater for all the several hundred people who are in the barracks. There are three dedicated meal times, where everybody needs to queue at the same time and sit in the same canteen to have their meals. Social distancing and good hygiene measures are essentially impossible.
Furthermore, in terms of disseminating information about correct social distancing, hygiene measures and handwashing, there are many different languages spoken by people in the barracks, not necessarily English. We are concerned that information was not disseminated in a culturally specific way.
As I said before, the outbreak at Napier has demonstrated to us that it is not covid-safe. Now there are a lot of very unwell people, who are very frightened and sick, stuck in this unsuitable accommodation.
Q940 Chair: To have an outbreak of 120 people, all having covid in the same centre, that is a very high outbreak. Given what you knew about the circumstances in which people were living, did it surprise you?
Dr O’Leary: Not in the slightest. On 26 November last year, the Helen Bamber Foundation and a group of other concerned clinicians and lawyers from Doctors of the World, Freedom from Torture and Forrest Medico-Legal Services wrote a letter to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, detailing our grave concerns about the possibility—in fact, the inevitability—of a covid-19 outbreak at one of these sites. Sadly, we were ignored and our worst fears have come true now.
Q941 Chair: From your point of view, this was completely predictable.
Dr O’Leary: Yes, absolutely.
Q942 Chair: Some of the response from the Home Office says that action has been taken in Napier and Penally to ensure that beds are 2 metres apart. If people are still sleeping all night in a contained space in a room, do you think that keeping beds 2 metres apart is sufficient social distancing?
Dr O’Leary: No, it’s not. As I said, the dormitories are not sufficiently ventilated. They have to be ventilated by keeping doors open in January and February. If residents have to share the same toilets, showering facilities at varying times of the day, have to queue and sit together to eat meals, the 2 metre distance between beds is going to make very little difference in terms of the transmissibility of the virus.
Q943 Chair: Has any assessment of the sites and the covid arrangements been done by health professionals from Public Health England, the local authority or the Health and Safety Executive?
Dr O’Leary: As far as I am aware, no. I may be incorrect, but I am not aware of any. On the medical intervention that extends to both sites, Napier has one privately contracted nurse who is resident there on Mondays to Fridays during office hours but, as I understand it, has not been there since 29 January, and the pathways for healthcare or accessing medical care in Penally is still patchy. It is a bit more comprehensive than in Napier but still inadequate. I am not sure that any comprehensive assessment on that front has been done.
Q944 Chair: So in terms of what is currently happening, your understanding is that there are currently 120 cases in Napier. Are all of those people in separate, self-isolated accommodation now, or are some of them still sharing dormitories with other people who haven’t tested positive for covid?
Dr O’Leary: As far as I am aware, 100 people who have tested positive have been moved out. As we know, 120 people were positive on 25 January, though as I understand it, that number has increased since then, as one might expect it to have done. A hundred people have been moved out, but there are still confirmed covid-positive residents who are sharing dormitories with people who have not tested positive for covid-19. Some have been moved out, on an apparently arbitrary basis, but some people who have tested positive still remain there.
Q945 Chair: Has everybody there been tested—all the residents, all the staff working there?
Dr O’Leary: No. Access to testing has also been intermittent, particularly since the tragic fire that occurred last week. The resident that I spoke to on Sunday had developed symptoms the week before. He had had a test but was unable to receive the results because currently the office of Napier Barracks is unmanned and that is where the results go to. Some people who have had tests have not been able to access whether or not their tests are positive.
Q946 Chair: Just explain that point—there is nobody working in the office?
Dr O’Leary: Since the fire, people have been evacuated and asked to leave. The presence of staff on the ground in the barracks is far less than what it used to be, so it is much more difficult for people to access things that they would normally access from the Clearsprings management.
Q947 Chair: So people cannot get their test results, they are still sharing accommodation in which there clearly is no social distancing, and there are covid cases on the site.
Dr O’Leary: Correct.
Q948 Chair: This is truly shocking. It is very troubling information that you are giving us. Have you been given any information about what the next steps are and what action is being taken by the management, the local authority or the Home Office?
Dr O’Leary: No, I am afraid not. We don’t know what the plan is or what the next steps are. Currently, as I understand it, Napier Barracks is being treated as a crime scene because of the fire that occurred last week. It will come as no surprise to you that I would say that the barracks needed to be evacuated immediately, for the safety of all concerned. As I mentioned before, it is not just the safety of the residents. The outbreak has huge implications for the safety of the wider community and the people who are coming in and out of it.
Q949 Chair: Has the public health director done an assessment? When we had an outbreak in Urban House in Wakefield, the local public health director did an assessment of what was happening in Urban House and made a series of recommendations that were then followed. Has that happened here?
Dr O’Leary: I don’t believe so. Not at this point.
Q950 Chair: Has the public health director had access to the site?
Dr O’Leary: That, I don’t know. I don’t know the answer, I am afraid. Sorry.
Q951 Chair: In terms of the implications of the fire and the consequences of the fire, what difference is that making now?
Dr O’Leary: It has had massive consequences because it led to the heating and the electricity not working. Some dorms have had their electricity and heating restarted, but that is only until 11 pm. Some dormitories still don’t have electricity or heating.
There was a disruption to the supply of water. The residents were told when they first moved into Napier Barracks that the water from the taps in the bathroom wasn’t safe to drink and they should have bottled water instead. Since there has been an interruption to the supply of safe drinking water, they have had to drink from the taps. People are feeling unwell with covid, are freezing cold and hungry, and do not have access to adequate drinking water.
We also understand that once the fire brigade was called to Napier Barracks, they discovered asbestos in the building, which creates other public health concerns for the residents. There has been quite a dramatic fall-out in terms of the mental and physical wellbeing of the residents since this fire has happened.
Q952 Chair: Theresa Schleicher or Lorna Gledhill, do you have anything further to add to this discussion about covid in asylum accommodation? We will come on to issues around covid in detention and some of the wider issues, but before I move on to Stuart McDonald for further follow-up questions, I want to see if either of you have anything further to add on this point.
Theresa Schleicher: Not on asylum accommodation from me.
Lorna Gledhill: Very quickly, on asylum accommodation, I can only agree with the picture that Jill has shared so far. It is a really terrifying situation that has come out of Napier. It is worth reiterating that a lot of this was predictable and a lot of people having been warning the Home Office about the potential for a covid outbreak at any of these sites. We have seen that from local authorities, we have seen it from the Welsh Government in the case of Penally, and we have seen it in the case of the medical representatives that Jill referred to.
It is incredibly concerning that we are where we are, considering the amount of concern that has been raised with the Home Office prior to this. Unfortunately, this pattern of non-consultation with local authorities around these sites and a lack of engagement when these sites are up and running is something that we have seen before in procurement of accommodation and procurement of contingency accommodation more generally. I am more than aware that the Committee is well aware of that. It is worth reiterating that there is a pattern of behaviour here, which the Home Office needs to take seriously if it wants to provide safe accommodation to people seeking asylum.
Q953 Chair: In terms of the arrangements at Penally for social distancing and covid-secure measures, are you aware of similar problems to those at Napier?
Dr O’Leary: Yes. There are fewer people in Penally than in the Napier Barracks, but we still have a similar set-up. There are dormitories shared by 16 to 20 people. Meals and ablutions happen in one building separately that everyone has to share. Meals are at set times, rather than staggered times to allow people to bubble. People have to queue and sit together for their meals. We remain concerned about the possibility of an outbreak in Penally as well.
Q954 Chair: Again, are you aware whether either the HSE or the local public health director have been able to do an assessment of Penally?
Dr O’Leary: I know that Hywel Dda, the local Welsh health board, has done some sterling work in setting up some pathways to healthcare for residents. However, I am not sure about any covid risk assessments that have been done by them, but I could certainly try to find out for you.
Q955 Chair: Thank you. Overall, how responsible do you think the Home Office has been in terms of the decision to set up these accommodation institutions in the middle of a covid crisis?
Dr O’Leary: There are a few different points to be made. First, we recognise the increased need for initial accommodation for asylum seekers. However, it is really important to emphasise that that increased need for accommodation does not represent an increased number of asylum seekers arriving in the country. The increased need for accommodation represents a backlog in processing applications by the Home Office, and that existed before the pandemic began in 2019.
The reason that we have asylum seekers but nowhere to house them, so they have to go to this unsuitable accommodation, is not because hordes of people are arriving in the country, but because there is a massive backlog by the Home Office in processing applications in the first place. That is one element.
The second element is that we have a wider consortium of concerns. Stakeholders have made our concerns really stark and been vocal from the very beginning about why this accommodation is unsuitable, and not just from a covid-19 perspective. Ex-military sites are completely unsuitable for people who are potentially traumatised by their experiences. The problems that we are seeing now, not just with the covid-19 outbreak but with deteriorating mental health, suicide attempts, protests and self-harming, were entirely predictable and could have been avoided completely.
Updated 5 February 2021: Guardian: Another asylum seeker relocated from Napier barracks after court order
‘Abject failure’ to protect men from Covid-19 at Kent site truly shocking, say lawyers
An asylum seeker and victim of torture held in a controversial army barracks has been urgently rehoused following a high court ruling, lawyers have said.
In the second such move this week, a high court judge ordered the relocation of the man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, from Napier barracks near Folkestone, Kent, into hotel accommodation.
The privately run barracks has been used to accommodate about 400 asylum seekers since September and last month experienced a significant Covid-19 outbreak, affecting at least a quarter of the men inside.
The legal team representing the rehoused claimant argued in written submissions to the court that he had been forced to sleep in the “overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsuitable” former army barracks and had been subjected to “prison-like conditions”.
Updated 3 February 2021: Guardian: Asylum seeker cannot remain at Kent army barracks, court says
High court ruling opens door for more people to be transferred out of ‘wholly unsuitable’ Napier barracks
“A former military chief, Nicholas Mercer, now a rector and previously the army’s top legal officer, has condemned the use of military barracks to accommodate asylum seekers.
“As the home secretary well knows, refugees are entitled to special protection under international law,” said Mercer. “It is wholly inappropriate therefore to house them in disused army barracks which have been described by the Red Cross as “unsafe and unsanitary” and which violate the UN convention on refugees. Refuge is about seeking sanctuary in a place of safety but this treatment is nothing more than naked hostility to very vulnerable people.” “
Refugees are still being housed at a disused army barracks near Tenby, despite repeated complaints that the accommodation is not suitable.
The Home Office has stated its intention to move people out of the Penally barracks. But residents say it’s not happening fast enough. Residents told The Canary that only 11 people have been moved out of the barracks, and 5 more will leave later this week since the Home Office announcement in January, and that around 100 people remain there in appalling conditions.
Saif (not his real name), who has been kept at Penally since September 2020, said:
The way they are moving people is too slow, last week they moved around 5 people. Its not enough, its really a small number.
I have been here since the end of September, and that’s too long.
The situation is getting worse. To live here during the winter is not easy because it’s an old military camp. The conditions are not correct to keep people here in winter. Its really really bad.
Updated 2 February 2021: Guardian: Former immigration minister criticises use of barracks to house asylum seekers
The Conservative former immigration minister Caroline Nokes has accused the Home Office of using barracks accommodation for asylum seekers to make the country appear to them “as difficult and inhospitable as possible”.
She said asylum seekers should not be “segregated into a ghetto” in barracks accommodation, but instead placed in supported accommodation where they have access to a range of facilities.
Nokes is among a group of backbench Conservative MPs with barracks in their constituencies who have raised concerns about their use to house asylum seekers. Others include Damian Collins, whose Folkestone and Hythe constituency includes Napier barracks, and Richard Fuller, the MP for North East Bedfordshire, where there is a new barracks-style development close to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.
Updated 31 January 2021: Independent: Home Office put refugees in barracks after fears better housing would ‘undermine confidence’ in system
Exclusive: Internal documents reveal ministers justified placing hundreds of asylum seekers in military camps because more ‘generous’ accommodation would damage public perception of asylum system
Concerns have been mounting about conditions in two Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites – known as Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, Kent, and Penally Barracks, in Pembrokeshire – since they were were repurposed for housing asylum seekers last September. Campaigners, lawyers and humanitarian groups have reported poor access to healthcare and legal advice, as well as concerns over coronavirus safety.
The barracks burst into flames on Friday and asylum seekers say they have suffered electricity and hot water outages since the fire, with Kent Police saying five men have been arrested after a disturbance at the camp.
It has now emerged that the Home Office, in its equality impact assessment of the plans to use MoD sites to house asylum seekers, justified the move by stating that housing these individuals in more “generous” accommodation would “undermine public confidence in the asylum system”.
Critics say the document shows ministers “pandering to prejudice” and jeopardising health for “political ends”.
26 January 2021: Independent: Home Office urged to publish review into ‘desperate’ asylum camps amid concerns about Covid outbreak
Ministers come under pressure as hundreds remain in camp where coronavirus outbreak has taken hold, with one asylum seeker saying he is sleeping outdoors to protect himself
Updated 23 January 2021: Guardian: UK asylum seekers told claims at risk if they ‘misbehave’
Call for Home Office to act after private contractors tell people their applications will be jeopardised for speaking out, going on hunger strikes or complaining about food
People held at temporary Home Office refugee camps are being threatened that their asylum claims will be harmed if they “misbehave”, according to testimony from site residents.
A series of statements from asylum seekers inside the camps, anonymised to protect them from possible reprisals, allege they have been told by staff employed by private contractors that their asylum application will be jeopardised for speaking out about conditions or going on hunger strike.
One alleged he was told that if he complained about the food his name would be added to a “blacklist” that contractors shared with the Home Office and would “affect his claim”.
Others said they were told their asylum claim would be impaired if they did not return to their accommodation – a disused military training camp – by 10pm.
Asylum is a human right backed by the UN Refugee Convention and assessed in the UK using agreed screening processes and Home Office immigration caseworkers.
Updated 18 January 2021: How will people in the asylum system, and those who are undocumented, access track and trace, testing, or the vaccine?
Police officers enforce move at Napier barracks after warnings from humanitarian organisations. [Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/19/kent-refugee-napier-barracks-locked-down-covid]
16 January 2021: Guardian: Legal action launched against plan to house asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood
Home Office criticised for plans to accommodate 200 people seeking asylum at ‘prison-style’ camp.
Pressure is mounting on the Home Office over its plans to house nearly 200 asylum seekers in what campaigners have described as a “prison-style” camp on the site of an immigration jail.
The construction of prefab-style accommodation at the privately run Yarl’s Wood centre in Bedfordshire follow a series of damning reports on conditions at two former army barracks sites in Kent and Pembrokeshire being used to hold up to 600 asylum-seeking men.
Campaigners have started legal action against the expansion of Yarl’s Wood, which is set to house its first asylum seekers imminently, while councillors in Bedford have spoken out against the new development.
The Home Office has invoked emergency powers under town and country planning legislation to speedily construct the cabin-style accommodation without seeking planning permission through conventional channels. Images of the new site have been leaked to the Guardian. Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jan/16/legal-action-launched-against-plan-to-house-asylum-seekers-at-yarls-wood
15 January 2021: BBC: Napier arracks: MP wants asylum seeker accommodation shut
An MP has called for an emergency asylum seeker accommodation centre in his constituency to be shut.
The first of several hundred people seeking asylum arrived at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, in September.
People being housed there recently staged protests at “unbearable” conditions at the ex-military base.
Now local MP Damian Collins has called for its closure. The Home Office has been approached for comment.
Mr Collins said he had raised concerns about the suitability of using the barracks to accommodate so many people at the start of the process.
“The best solution would be for the asylum seekers to have their claims processed and for this facility to be closed down,” he said.
In protest, residents have staged a sleep out and hunger strikes, and police were called on Tuesday when about 100 people walked out for about an hour.
The campaign group Care4Calais says three people are still refusing to sleep inside.
The group’s founder Clare Moseley said: “The asylum seekers at Napier already face cramped, stressful, distressing conditions, and now they are terrified of catching Covid as well.”
14 January 2021 BBC: Covid: Asylum seeker camp conditions prompt inspection calls
Asylum seekers housed in a military training camp have claimed the “very bad” conditions are making them feel increasingly desperate.
The Home Office decided to house up to 250 asylum seekers at the site in Penally, Pembrokeshire, from September.
But some housed at the camp claim the conditions are unsafe and putting them at risk of coronavirus.
Plaid Cymru has called for an urgent inspection, but the Home Office said it was safe and “Covid-compliant”.
On Thursday afternoon, the independent chief inspector for borders and immigration David Bolt said he hoped an inspection can begin “within a few weeks” and was awaiting further details he requested from the Home Office.
Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-55650508
14 January 2021: Guardian: Asylum seeker housing conditions under scrutiny at third ex-military site
Allegations of poor conditions, poor food quality and mental health crises at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk.
A third former military site being used as temporary housing for asylum seekers is facing allegations of poor conditions, poor food quality and mental health crises, it has emerged.
The Home Office has been housing asylum seekers in a former officers’ mess at RAF Coltishall, north of Norwich, since April last year. The Norfolk site has not received as much scrutiny as two similar facilities, Napier Barracks in Kent and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire, which have been dogged by allegations of cover-ups, poor access to healthcare and legal advice, and crowded conditions.
But it has emerged that there have been similar concerns over the set-up at RAF Coltishall, with people familiar with the site claiming there have been issues with lack of information, food quality, access to medical care including dentistry, as well as suicide attempts and hunger strikes. Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jan/14/asylum-seeker-housing-conditions-under-scrutiny-third-uk-military-site-raf-coltishall-norfolk-
14 January 2021 Morning Star: Asylum-seekers march into Tenby demanding their human rights
ASYLUM-SEEKERS at an army barracks in Wales marched into the local town on Wednesday night with banners reading: “Close the camp” and “We want normal life, no prison.”
Around 250 men have been held in Penally Camp since September, when the Home Office decided to use the disused army base as temporary accommodation for asylum-seekers.
Residents claim conditions at the site are not safe, and have repeatedly raised concerns about a lack of access to medical care and legal support.
Today a group of 40 men from the camp took to the streets to voice their frustration and demand it be shut down.
Walking from the camp to the nearby town of Tenby, protesters, chanting: “We are civilians,” held pieces of carboard asking: “Where are [our] human rights?”
14 January 2021: Northern Echo: Plans revealed to build prison-style immigration camp on site of former Hassockfield Detention Centre
GOVERNMENT plans to scrap a residential development in favour of creating an immigration detention centre on the site of a notorious facility have been described as “madness”.
Durham county councillors are demanding answers after Ministry of Justice plans emerged, proposing to turn the former Hassockfield Detention Centre, in Medomsley, into a Category 3-style prison to detain around 80 people who have had applications for UK residency denied.
The council had approved a planning application from Homes England for 127 new homes on the site, over a year ago. [Read more here: https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/19009076.plans-immigration-detention-centre-notorious-medomsley-site/ ]
8 December 2020: Barton Stacey asylum seeker cabin site ‘would be open prison’
Plans to accommodate up to 500 asylum seekers in cabins near a village have been condemned by both the local MP and council leader.
Test Valley Borough Council leader Phil North said the “substandard” homes near Barton Stacey, Hampshire, would be like an “open prison”.
Fellow Conservative Caroline Nokes MP said the site would infringe rules on development.