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:
Penally camp is apparently shutting permanently, due in part to pressure from Welsh MPs. The Home Office will continue to use Napier camp for now.. You can write to your MP in support of the #CloseTheBarracks campaign.
23 April 2021: Guardian: Report condemns Home Office failures at barracks used to house asylum seekers
Exclusive: documents seen by the Guardian criticises serious errors in management of Napier and Penally sitesThe full scale of Home Office failures in managing former military sites as makeshift accommodation for asylum seekers is laid bare in a raft of damning documents seen by the Guardian.
An unpublished report by prison inspectors and correspondence sent by the outgoing chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt, highlight “serious mistakes” and “fundamental failures of leadership and planning” by the Home Office in its management of the Napier barracks site in Kent and Penally camp in Pembrokeshire.
[…] Commenting on the findings, Stuart McDonald, SNP MP and member of the home affairs select committee, said: “The Home Office simply dumped hundreds of vulnerable people in totally unsuitable accommodation – and dangerous given the global health pandemic – and washed its hands of responsibility by leaving completely unequipped subcontractors to take charge.”
He added: “Shockingly, far from wanting to close the barracks, the Tories apparently see this type of ‘warehousing’ as the future for asylum accommodation. This will be a disaster for everyone, but most importantly, for the vulnerable people whose health and wellbeing will suffer drastically as a result. The Tories cannot be trusted with the asylum system – far from fixing it, they are destroying it”. […]
17 April 2021: APPGDetention @APPGDetention: Good to see coverage today of our call for @pritipatel to close Napier Barracks w/ immediate effect. Based on evidence from @IndependentCI + @HMIPrisonsnews it is clear that continuing to house people at the site puts them at very serious risk of harm. Read the full letter:
Cross-party group says people should be housed in community rather than ‘unacceptable’ camp in Kent
A cross-party group of parliamentarians has urged the home secretary to close a controversial military barracks being used to house asylum seekers with immediate effect, and instead house them in the community where they can receive appropriate support.
Members of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on immigration detention, which has more than 40 members, have written to Priti Patel to say they “entirely agree” with serious concerns aired by the then independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt, about conditions at Napier barracks in Kent.
At a meeting with APPG last month, Bolt, who has recently stepped down from his role, told the group it was a “serious error of judgment” to think military barracks could be suitable to house asylum seekers.
The parliamentarians described the conditions at Napier, where almost 200 people tested positive for coronavirus during an outbreak in January and February, as “utterly unacceptable” and said the report highlighted “serious failings on the part of the Home Office in terms of leadership, planning and accountability”.
Updated 16 April 2021: Kent Online: Full report issued on failings of asylum seeker accommodation at Napier Barracks, Folkestone
Asylum seeker accommodation at a Kent barracks has been slammed in a full report of failings at the camp.
The Napier Barracks in Folkestone was re-purposed as housing to cope with a rise in attempted illegal crossings.
However, that use has since ended after an outcry from MPs, Public Health England, human rights groups and the residents themselves.
Wednesday saw the beginning of a High Court case, being raised by six asylum seekers who stayed in the more than 100-year-old buildings.
As part of the body of evidence, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) issued a full report into conditions at the camp which highlighted many failings.
The High Court heard the housing was “unsafe”, with six asylum seekers who had previously stayed there describing the conditions as “appalling”.
Staff from the department “were rarely present at either site” and managers at both sites lacked “the experience and skills to run large-scale communal accommodation,” it added.
Among other findings, the report highlighted the following issues:
– The accommodation was “inadequate” and “unsuitable”.
– There were “serious safeguarding concerns”. One person who was identified as a potential victim of trafficking remained there for a further 10 weeks before being transferred. In total, 31 residents had to be moved over health and safeguarding fears.
– People at high risk of self-harm were taken to a “decrepit” isolation block which was “unfit for habitation”.
– Seven people were thought to have self-harmed there and a further seven had “threatened suicide”. One “actively suicidal resident” had remained on the site for more than a month.
– Home Office communication with asylum seekers was “poor” and the “dearth of official information gave rise to misunderstandings and rumours, which had a negative effect on individuals and the collective mood”.
– The lack of privacy, activities and limited information available for asylum seekers had a “corrosive effect on residents’ morale and mental health”.
– Some asylum seekers believed to be children were kept at the barracks for long periods of time before being placed with social services. In one instance, this was for more than two months.
– Staff – who were mainly security guards with backgrounds in nightclub, hotel and retail security or personal protection – were seen to be pleasant and respectful towards the asylum seekers but were “ill-equipped” to deal with the complex problems they faced.
Updated 15 April 2021: Independent: Vulnerable asylum seeker kept at Napier Barracks for weeks after attempting to take his life
Safeguarding failings meant suicidal individuals and potential trafficking victims remained in camp for weeks despite Home Office saying vulnerable people should not be there, previously unseen report shows.
A vulnerable asylum seeker was held at Napier Barracks for weeks after he attempted suicide at the camp, according to a previously unseen report which raises “serious concerns” about safeguarding on the site.
A damning Prison Inspectorate report into the accommodation of asylum seekers at the Ministry of Defence site in Kent, carried out in February, warns of “major weaknesses” in the way residents with serious mental health and welfare needs are cared for at the camp.
The report, which has not yet been published in full but was released to journalists after it was referenced during court proceedings, found there had been seven incidents of self-harm at the barracks – with some described as “serious” – and that seven residents had threatened suicide.
The findings were cited as evidence in a legal challenge over the use of Napier Barracks, which was repurposed into asylum accommodation in September and around 400 individuals were subsequently moved in.
The camp was emptied in April, but the Home Office has started placing a new cohort of asylum seekers there and intends to use the site until September – which the claimants’ lawyers are hoping to prevent.
The Home Office has admitted that it placed asylum seekers at increased risk of contracting coronavirus when housing them in military barracks, and justified this by saying the men were “young and healthy”.
Priti Patel’s lawyers said she had “always accepted and acknowledged that transmission risk is higher in congregate settings” such as Napier Barracks in Kent, where she placed 400 asylum seekers last September.
[…] The camp was emptied in April, but the Home Office has started placing a new cohort of asylum seekers there and intends to use the site until September.
A High Court hearing is taking place this week in which lawyers acting for six former residents of the barracks argue that housing asylum seekers is unlawful and breaches their human rights.
14 April 2021: BBC: Napier Barracks: Suicide attempts at ‘unsafe’ asylum-seeker camp
A former military barracks used to house asylum seekers was “squalid, ill-equipped” and “unsafe”, the High Court heard.
Six men who were housed at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, claim the accommodation breached their human rights.
Tom Hickman QC said an independent report found seven suicide attempts and seven incidents of serious self-harm.
The Home Office argues that the use of the barracks is lawful.
The six asylum seekers, who were all said to be victims of torture or human trafficking, claim there was a lack of healthcare, with no mental health support and only one nurse on site, the court heard.
Mr Hickman said that with high fences and a nightly curfew, it had “all the hallmarks of a detention facility” and was “not adequate accommodation for vulnerable persons”.
He said it was “squalid, ill-equipped, lacking in personal privacy and unsafe”.
Updated 14 April 2021: Independent: Home Office placed hundreds of asylum seekers at ‘serious risk’ of fire in Napier Barracks, document reveals
Home Office placed hundreds of asylum seekers at ‘serious risk’ of fire in Napier Barracks, document reveals
Six men who were housed at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, claim the accommodation breached their human rights.
Tom Hickman QC said an independent report found seven suicide attempts and seven incidents of serious self-harm.
The Home Office argues that the use of the barracks is lawful.
The six asylum seekers, who were all said to be victims of torture or human trafficking, claim there was a lack of healthcare, with no mental health support and only one nurse on site, the court heard.
Mr Hickman said that with high fences and a nightly curfew, it had “all the hallmarks of a detention facility” and was “not adequate accommodation for vulnerable persons”.
He said it was “squalid, ill-equipped, lacking in personal privacy and unsafe”.
Read more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-56746188
It has been heartbreaking to hear our friends panic when they receive a letter saying they are moving to the infamous Napier Barracks. Just like us, they have heard the horror stories. The saving grace has been our brilliant volunteers in Folkstone who have stepped up as always. On Sunday, they went to greet around 50 new arrivals and reassure them that we will be on hand to support them going forward.
The volunteers took cakes, snacks and drinks to share with the residents. They played football, and spent time talking to people and getting to know them. Yesterday, they ran a circuits session and organised games for some fun and exercise, and there have been walks on the seafront and cliffs too.
Small improvements may have been made but It is still an army barracks and this induces fear in those fleeing conflict. People are still in shared dormitories which cannot be Covid safe. They are still cut off from communities that can help them.
Already we are seeing indications that sufficient improvements have not been made. We’ve spoken to multiple residents who have vulnerabilities that suggest they should not be in this oppressive environment, including victims of trafficking and torture and an age disputed minor. It’s incredible that the Home Office has learnt no lessons from what has gone before. Penally Camp was closed and Napier should be closed too
Until then, we will be on hand to provide friendship and support, and to show the residents that there will always be people who care about them.
To support our work visit Care4Calais.org/donate.
13 April 2021: Matthew Gold & Co: Napier Barracks: Two Day Trial Begins in High Court on 14 April
Tomorrow the High Court will begin a two day trial before the honourable Mr Justice Linden to determine whether the Home Secretary’s use of the former military Napier Barracks as asylum support accommodation was lawful.
The claim is brought by 6 Claimants in 5 joined claims, in which the Claimants argue that the accommodation provided was wholly inadequate and contrary to the Home Office’s own published policies and standards and risked breaching their Articles 2, 3 and 8 human rights. The Claimants also allege that they were falsely imprisoned during their times in the barracks.
Napier Barracks has been used to accommodate around 400 asylum seekers in dilapidated and overcrowded communal conditions since September 2020. That was despite multiple warnings from NGOs that the barracks were completely unsuitable to house so many residents, many of whom have complex needs stemming from fleeing violence, persecution, and torture.
The trial was ordered by the High Court on an expedited basis after the High Court granted permission in February for the claim to proceed. At the permission hearing the Court heard that the Home Office had ignored advice from Public Health England that Napier Barracks was unsuitable.
Clare Jennings, Director of Matthew Gold and Co who represents the Claimants XD and YZM says:
“For over 4 months our clients, and their fellow residents at Napier barracks endured what they describe as unbearable “prison-like” living conditions. They shared dormitory accommodation with up to 13 other men, and bathrooms with too few toilets and showers. In January of this year Covid-19 spread like wildfire through the barracks. An outbreak that was all but inevitable given the cramped communal living conditions within the barracks. We hope that the Court will determine that accommodating our clients in the barracks was unlawful and breached their human rights and provide justice for our clients”.
The hearing can be accessed by video link by contacting the Administrative Court.
The Claimants are all anonymised pursuant to a Court Order and cannot identified for legal reasons. The case references are: NB v SSHD CO/312/2021, M & F v SSHD CO/329/2021, OMA v SSHD CO/397/2021, XD v SSHD CO/354/2021, YZM v SSHD CO/402/2021.
Emily Soothill, Sue Willman Ahmed Ali and Rosa Potter from Deighton Pierce Glynn are instructed by NB, M, F and OMA. Counsel instructed in those claims is Tom Hickman QC of Blackstone Chambers and Leonie Hirst of Doughty Street Chambers.
Liberty and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (“JCWI”) have both been permitted to file written interventions in the proceedings. Zoë Leventhal of Matrix Chambers, Ben Amunwa and Admas Habteslasie are instructed by Liberty. Sonali Naik QC and Ali Bandegani of Garden Court Chambers are instructed by Freshfields on behalf of JCWI.
For enquiries please contact MG&Co on 020 8445 9268.
13 April 2021: Guardian: Home Office faces inquiry into use of barracks to house asylum seekers
Cross-party MPs and peers concerned about ‘quasi-detention’ of vulnerable people
An inquiry is to be carried out into the Home Office’s use of sites such as military barracks to accommodate asylum seekers, the Guardian has learned.
MPs and peers from the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on immigration detention agreed to proceed with the inquiry at a private meeting on 17 March. The cross-party group is due to publish its initial findings before the summer recess and hopes its findings can inform parliamentary discussions about the Home Office’s new plans for asylum seekers.
Members of the group have described the Home Office’s use of large-scale, institutional sites as “quasi-detention”, saying that although the likes of Napier barracks in Folkestone are not technically immigration detention the accommodation shares many features with it.
Updated 8 April 2021: Guardian: Asylum seekers told they will stay at Napier barracks for months
Home Office letter says new arrivals will reside at controversial site for at least 60 to 90 days despite legal fight
Asylum seekers being moved into the Napier barracks site in Kent have been told they will reside at the former military facility for at least two to three more months, the Guardian understands, as a number of legal challenges are poised to be heard.
Men who are being held in hotels, as well as some new arrivals in the UK, have received letters from the Home Office telling them they will be moved into the barracks on Friday and that “it is anticipated you will reside at Napier for between 60 and 90 days”.
The Home Office has previously said the former Ministry of Defence site was being used as “temporary, contingency accommodation” for asylum seekers who would eventually be moved to dispersal accommodation such as a house or flat.
The Guardian understands that among those who will be sent there this week are men who have previously stayed in the barracks, including an asylum seeker who spent two months in Napier, left in December and has stayed in a hotel since, still waiting to hear about his asylum claim.
Updated 7 April 2021: Guardian: Home Office to send more asylum seekers to ‘unsuitable’ Napier barracks
Exclusive: Former military site was emptied following evidence camp is not suitable for accommodation
A new intake of asylum seekers will be sent to the controversial Napier barracks site in Kent from Friday, the Guardian understands, despite mounting evidence the camp is not suitable for accommodation.
The former military site near Folkestone was emptied of its last residents over the weekend, raising hopes that the Home Office would discontinue its use as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.
However, the Guardian has seen correspondence confirming that Clearsprings Ready Homes, the private contractor that runs the site on behalf of the Home Office, intends to bring in new arrivals from Friday.
The decision comes after a significant Covid outbreak in which 50% of the near 400 residents fell sick, multiple outstanding legal challenges, the closure of a sister site in Pembrokeshire and months of revelations over the suitability of the camp.
Updated 19 March 2021: #CloseTheBarracks The Canary: Asylum seeker recalls ‘worst experience of my life’ living in UK barracks
An asylum seeker who fled gang violence and kidnap in his home country said being housed in military barracks in the UK was like “a really bad dream”.
Eduardo spent more than a month living at Penally camp in Wales, one of two Ministry of Defence sites the Home Office has used to house refugees.
And while Penally is now set to close, it is understood that the controversial use of Napier Barracks in Kent is set to continue.
Later on Friday (today), people across the country are to come together for a virtual day of action calling for fair treatment of people seeking asylum.
Updated 17 March 2021: Guardian: Outcry as UK asylum-seekers camp remains open as sister site shuts
Home Office says it will hand back Penally camp to MoD but second military barracks in Kent will remain in operation
The Home Office is refusing to shut a controversial camp for asylum-seekers set up within a former military barracks despite closing a sister site in Wales after months of pressure over appalling living conditions.
Napier Barracks near Folkestone in Kent will “remain in operation in accordance with current needs”, the department said, after announcing Penally camp in Pembrokeshire would be handed back to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Sunday.
Humanitarian charities and opposition politicians welcomed the closure of Penally but said the Home Office must follow by shutting down Napier.
Both sites have housed hundreds of asylum seekers since being handed over to the Home Office in September and have been dogged by allegations of cover-ups, poor access to healthcare and legal advice, and crowded conditions.
Updated 16 March 2021: In relation to the intended closure of Penally camp, Care4Calais say: · Welcome news! The only reasonable thing would be to now close Napier also. Conditions there are equally as grim as Penally, and the recent Inspector’s Report made it abundantly clear it should never have been used to house asylum seekers.
An Army camp housing asylum seekers in Pembrokeshire is set to close within days, a UK government minister says.
It comes after inspectors said the camp at Penally and Napier Barracks in Kent were “run-down and unsuitable“.
The Home Office said it gave “safe and secure accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute”.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said the Home Office had agreed to return Penally to the Ministry of Defence by 21 March.
BBC Wales has been told the remaining asylum seekers will be gradually moved out before then. Read more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-56418361
Updated 12 March 2021: DuncanLewisPublicLaw@DLPublicLaw Court hearing today: HO has agreed they & their contractors have no power to impose restrictions on movement of asylum seekers living in hotels and cannot threaten residents re. non-compliance. HO to immediately inform providers & residents that no such restrictions exist.
Care4Calais Brilliant news at yesterday’s court hearing. Great work by Duncan Lewis Solicitors, Matthew Gold and our fabulous access team. No more curfews or one hour rules.
11 March 2021: Care4Calais · Today, Mohammed C, an African refugee who died in a hotel in November, was buried in North London. His body had been washed and shrouded with the appropriate Muslim practices and an Imam led mourners in prayer and recited the prayer for the dead. After the burial, friends marked his grave with a simple branch.30 friends were able to attend the funeral, in accordance with current Covid regulations. These were all refugees who had met him on his journey. All shared his experiences, knew his friendship and appreciated his value as a human being. We want to express immense gratitude to all of our supporters and volunteers who made it possible for friends to attend. To those who donated money for travel and food, who got people to trains or met them off them, donated oyster cards and phone credit, gave lifts and support – our huge thanks. It was a sombre and deeply sad occasion but made better by the fact that Mohammed was able to be laid to rest surrounded by people who knew and loved him and will keep his memory in their hearts.
Updated 8 March 2021: *Guardian: Inspectors condemn Covid safety of barracks used to house asylum seekers
‘Fundamental failures of leadership and planning’ identified after visits to Napier and Penally facilities.
[…] The chair of the home affairs select committee, Yvette Cooper, said the preliminary findings were damning. “This shocking report from the ICIBI shows just how unsuitable, unsafe and inappropriate this accommodation was for long-term accommodation in a pandemic,” she said. Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/08/inspectors-report-condemns-covid-security-of-home-office-asylum-barracks
Asylum seekers were housed in cramped and filthy conditions at a military barracks, inspectors have said.
Some of the most vulnerable people were living in a “decrepit” block unfit for habitation at Kent’s Napier Barracks.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons also visited Penally Camp in Pembrokeshire. They said both sites were “run-down”.
The Home Office said it had instructed service providers to make improvements.
Labour has said the findings are “utterly unbelievable”, and Plaid Cymru called for Home Secretary Priti Patel to “consider her position”. Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-56325360
An inspection of Napier Barracks in Folkestone and Penally Camp in Wales found residents “depressed” and “hopeless”.
During the week of 15 February 2021 inspectors from ICIBI and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) visited Penally Camp and Napier Barracks, spending two days at each site.
During the week of 15 February 2021, as part of ICIBI’s inspection of contingency asylum accommodation, inspectors from ICIBI and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) visited Penally Camp and Napier Barracks, spending two days at each site. The Independent Chief Inspector made a follow-up visit to Napier Barracks on 4 March.
HMIP is producing a detailed written report, which the Independent Chief Inspector will append to ICIBI’s full inspection report on completion of this inspection. As well as Penally Camp and Napier Barracks, ICIBI’s report will cover hotels and any other forms of contingency asylum accommodation. ICIBI’s report and recommendations will be submitted to the Home Secretary and published in the usual way. Meanwhile, the points below, which have been shared with the Home Office, provide a high-level overview of what inspectors found during their site visits. The headings are those typically used by HMIP.
ICIBI’s inspection of contingency asylum accommodation is ongoing and inspectors are continuing to gather, analyse and test written and oral evidence from the Home Office, the contracted third parties, national and local stakeholders, and asylum seekers who are or have been in contingency accommodation. While the public ‘call for evidence’ has closed, ICIBI is still keen to receive evidence, including the latest information, about contingency asylum accommodation in general and about specific sites, including Penally Camp and Napier Barracks.
Leadership and management
- Opening Penally Camp and Napier Barracks as contingency asylum accommodation, particularly doing so safely during a pandemic, presented substantial logistical and other challenges. Despite this, the Home Office gave its accommodation contractors less than two weeks to make each site operational.
- Local stakeholders who needed to set up essential services for residents, such as healthcare, were not consulted in advance of the Home Office taking the decision to proceed. They were given insufficient time to prepare before the first asylum seekers arrived and there seems to have been little understanding or regard on the Home Office’s part of what impact this would have at the local level.
- In September/October 2020, Public Health England had advised the Home Office that opening multi-occupancy dormitory-style accommodation at Napier was not supported by current guidance, and both they and Public Health Wales expressed concerns about the COVID-safety of the accommodation. Both sites were opened before Public Health Wales and Public Health England recommendations had been actioned.
- Public Health England further advised that if the accommodation was to be used, the ability to isolate positive cases and/or establish effective cohorting arrangements was essential to containing any COVID-19 outbreak. Given the cramped communal conditions and unworkable cohorting at Napier, once one person was infected a large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable. In our resident survey at Napier, none of those who responded felt they had been kept safe from COVID-19. At Penally, where overall numbers were lower and cohorts smaller, the vast majority still did not feel they were being kept safe from the risk of infection.
- The Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate (CPFSI) informed us of serious concerns about fire safety at Napier that had not been fully addressed at the time of the ICIBI/HMIP inspection visit. The work recommended by CPFSI at Penally had been largely completed.
- While COVID-19 restrictions had meant that some asylum seekers had been accommodated at Penally Camp and Napier Barracks for much longer than had been originally envisaged, the Home Office had been slow to recognise the impact on residents of prolonged isolation in accommodation that was not designed or intended for long-term stays.
- The resources, skills and assurance systems required to support long-term communal accommodation were inadequate at both sites:
- On-site management structures were unclear, partly because of the multiple sub-contractors and partly because of inadequate oversight by the contracting companies.
- Managers at both sites lacked the experience and skills to run large-scale communal accommodation.
- The Home Office did not exercise adequate oversight at either site and Home Office staff were rarely present. There were fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office.
- We met many men who described feeling depressed and hopeless at their circumstances. In our resident survey, all of those who responded at Napier and the vast majority at Penally said they had felt depressed at some points. At both sites about a third of respondents said they had mental health problems; about a third of respondents at Napier said they had felt suicidal.
- We had serious safeguarding concerns in relation to Napier. There was inadequate support for people who had self-harmed. People at high risk of self-harm were located in a decrepit ‘isolation block’ which we considered unfit for habitation. Residents who may have been children were also housed in the same block pending an age assessment; in one case we were told that this had been for up to two weeks.
- Residents at both sites were normally able to come and go. The exception was during the major COVID-19 outbreak at Napier, when over a hundred people were confined to their billets for approximately four weeks and unable to go outside except to use the mobile toilets or showers. They were warned that they might be arrested if they left the camp. In at least one case, a resident was forcibly returned to the camp by the police.
- At both sites, residents described feeling trapped in poor conditions and feared that if they moved out they would jeopardise their only source of support and possibly their asylum cases.
- Residents at both camps, especially Napier, told us they had been shouted at and intimidated by protestors and members of the public who did not want them there and that this was another reason they did not want to leave the camp. While Napier was close to a town (Folkestone), Penally Camp was isolated and the nearest town (Tenby) was a long walk.
- The environment at both sites, especially Napier, was impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation.
- Cleanliness at both sites was variable at best and cleaning was made difficult by the age of the buildings. Some areas were filthy.
- The accommodation contractor had made efforts to improve the facilities (for example, installing mobile shower and toilet units), and at the beginning of March 2021 work was in hand at Napier to reconfigure the interior of some blocks into smaller living units. However, the age and general condition of the buildings made the costs of more substantial refurbishment prohibitive given the uncertainty over how long they would be required as asylum accommodation.
- At Napier, the number of residents had reduced from almost 400 in mid-January 2021 to 62 in mid-February. Since December 2020, the number at Penally had reduced to c.80, having been double this at its height. The multi-occupancy billets at both sites were cramped, which made effective social distancing difficult, and inspectors heard that this had been impossible before the numbers were reduced.
- Most current residents had been in Penally or Napier for several months. They did not know how much longer they would be in the camp and this was a major cause of distress. They had been told initially that they would be there for a few weeks. Over the months, they had been told various things about their stay and about moving on and now did not trust anything they heard. Residents told inspectors they did not understand why they were still in the camp while others had been moved out, and some believed (mistakenly) that it was in some way connected to the Home Office’s view of the strength of their asylum claim, and the fact they had been in Penally or Napier would count against them.
- Most residents were awaiting a substantive asylum interview but did not have a date for this. Home Office communication with them was poor. It had only recently commenced video meetings with residents. These meetings did not provide information about individual asylum claims, which was what concerned residents most. The dearth of official information gave rise to misunderstandings and rumours, which had a negative effect on individuals and the collective mood.
- Managers did not systematically survey or consult residents.
- Most residents we spoke to said that onsite security and services staff were friendly and treated them with respect.
- All residents had a mobile phone throughout their stay and could access the internet, although WIFI at Penally had been poor until recently. They had little to do to fill their time, a lack of privacy, a lack of control over their day-to-day lives, and limited information about what would happen to them. These factors had had a corrosive effect on residents’ morale and mental health.
- While there were some restrictions regarding access to the sites, mostly COVID-related, local voluntary groups were supporting residents at both camps, including with clothing and other necessities, by organising activities and signposting and facilitating access to legal representatives. Meanwhile, to supplement its contracted telephone helpline service, Migrant Help had arranged to have someone onsite at both sites.
Preparation for leaving the accommodation
- Most residents had been in hotel accommodation before being moved to either Penally or Napier. Typically, they received little notice (a matter of hours) of the plan to move them to one of the camps and no explanation of why. The same was true of moving them from Penally or Napier. Most were moved back to a hotel. At the beginning of March 2021, Napier residents were informed that they would all be relocated by 2 April. They were not told to where. Most did not believe it would happen and feared that if there were new arrivals before they left they could again become trapped by a new COVID-19 outbreak.
- There was little focus on helping residents to prepare for next steps, but the visiting agencies and charities provided useful practical support for those who were moving on.
Penally Camp Images
- Penally Camp. 16 February 2021. (JPEG, 2.23MB)
- Wash room at Penally camp. 16 February 2021. (JPEG, 1.47MB)
- Living accommodation at Penally Camp. 16 February 2021. (JPEG, 1.27MB)
Napier Barracks Images
- Napier Barracks. 17 February 2021. (JPEG, 2.58MB)
- Living accommodation at Napier Barracks. 17 February 2021. (JPEG, 1.41MB)
- Living/sleeping area, Napier Barracks. 17 February 2021. (JPEG, 1.79MB)
- Living/sleeping area (photo 2), Napier Barracks. 17 February 2021. (JPEG, 2.21MB)
- Isolation room, Napier Barracks. 17 February 2021 (JPEG, 1.42MB)
- Isolation room (photo 2), Napier Barracks. 17 February 2021. (JPEG, 1.55MB)
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.
But good news:
… But good news: 29th April: Barton Stacey: Plans to build asylum seeker camp dropped
Plans to hold up to 500 asylum seekers on a piece of land off the A303 have been dropped by the Home Office.
The government department has withdrawn its plans to build a temporary holding facility on Ministry of Defence land near Barton Stacey, after scores of objections from politicians, residents and human rights groups.
The plans were labelled “akin to an open prison” by Cllr Phil North, leader of Test Valley Borough Council when they were first revealed in December, with almost 3,500 people since signing a petition against it. [Read more: https://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/news/19268679.barton-stacey-plans-build-asylum-seeker-camp-dropped ]