Life in ‘contingency units’

The Home Office says that people are assessed as to their suitability for life in the camps – Penally and Napier – people who have been sent to the camps said that there was no assessment carried out to their knowledge, other than on first arrival when they may not have fully understood the situation or the language (or interpreter). 

In relation to social distancing, people who have been living in the camps describe sharing sleeping areas with many other people, having to use communal showers, sharing toilets with many others,  eating in a large area which everyone is expected to use,  one communal room for socialising for everyone where the internet signal could be found and the (two) TVs were kept.  

Those who were in Covid isolation still shared the washing areas with others, there was no real separation.

Those accommodated in the camps at Penally and Napier report that prior to Covid-19 lockdown hostile people from the far right – Britain First for example – were  coming to the perimeter fencing, or hanging around outside the gates, that they would call them over to engage them in conversation. Many people in the asylum system have no idea about the political situation in UK and were taken unawares by this, and were aghast to see themselves on social media.

Men at Napier barracks report being especially afraid at night when they heard the fencing being rattled, fireworks exploding and the men outside calling them, and they tried to avoid leaving their building to go to the toilet block or visit friends.

They said the far right took it in shifts to harass them so that the tension was kept at a high level all day, and those with the most threatening attitudes came at night when it was dark. They did not feel protected in these circumstances by the Police or the accommodation provider.

People in Napier camp spoke of the expectation that UK would be welcoming, and to find themselves as the subject of far-right activity was devastating.  The verbal and intimidating assaults have been allowed to continue.

How are people’s needs taken care of

Those in Napier and Penally camp describe a palpable tension and frustration caused by the situation, and spoke with compassion about accepting that some people in the camp would frequently become very angry, and break windows etc which was frightening to experience;  they said they would stay out of their shared rooms during the day because a sensitive person may need some space to themselves;  there is TV footage of a man trying to breach the fencing of Napier during the Covid lockdown period to escape; the fire at Napier is another indication of the pent-up frustrations building in the camp.

Residents report that access to appropriate medical services is limited, that there is not local GP service with space for them to register, and then when they are moved they need to find someone all over again.  They said that the dentist seemed to be pulling out teeth rather than treating the problem.  How can that be acceptable?

People have reported that they were told their asylum case would be rejected if they complained about the situation in the camps, at the time of the impending Inspection. 

They were told that after days of being locked down due to the high number of Covid cases, they would be able to mingle with others in the camp at midnight as the virus was over,  however they had not themselves been tested. When midnight came and they were looking forward to seeing friends this was suddenly locked down again. It caused intense disappointment.

They do not believe what the staff tell them.

The fire was started after the residents received a letter from staff at the camp telling them they were to be locked into the camp under Covid rules. When trouble erupted, staff apparently came out to film the fracas.  Where was the understanding, the techniques to deflate the tension, compassion?

It was thought by at least one resident that the staff had no idea who was actually involved in starting the fire, but they told the police which residents they considered to be likely ‘suspects’, as they had been ‘trouble-makers’ before.

Residents understood that once all the residents had negative Covid tests, pus an extra ten days,  they would be allowed out again. How long would that take?

How has the Home Office let them know about changes – whether this is about moving accommodation, or Covid restrictions etc.

Whilst some were told in advance of their impending transfer from hotel to camp, or out of the camp, others reported being given 15 minutes notice of a move from hotel to camp, or camp to hotel, just time to pack, nor time to properly say goodbye or have sometimes to eat lunch before a long journey. 

They would then be taken in a taxi. Leaving a hotel to go to the camp, people were sometimes told by the taxi driver that they did not know where they were going, and some of these long journeys were taking place at night. The men think this was to avoid people resisting if they knew they were going to the camp, but their actual experience was bewilderment and anxiety because they had no idea whether this was to different accommodation, or for example, to an immigration detention centre or other such place.

On arrival, people were given what they perceived to be assurances that their stay would be for a month, but some have been there since the camps opened in September 2020, so this was clearly not true. 

The psychological impact

They said the worst thing was not knowing how long they would be there, if it was a month they could perhaps bear it, but knowing it may be several months and that nothing said by the staff could be trusted, people become depressed.

In addition to this not knowing, and not trusting, the isolation of the camp itself caused people to feel shut off from society, and added to feelings of vulnerability and depression.

One man commented that he has fled persecution by the political regime in his own country only to be used by the political regime in UK as a flag for the hostile environment, a threat to those hoping to come to UK. 

They said they could bear conditions in other countries on the way in the short-term because they knew that when they reached UK they would be treated properly. If they had known how it would be in the camps they would have stayed and endured the terrible conditions in Europe.

Physical conditions in the camp caused additional stress, and it was perhaps more stressful to see them fixed just before the inspection – toilets fixed after not working for 3 months; people suddenly finding themselves in a room of two people instead of five or six; meals were brought to the rooms in Napier camp instead of being dished up in the communal area following the fire as the kitchen was not fixed.  The quality of this food was much appreciated.  In Penally it was said that the kitchen staff showed that they knew how to cook rice because the rice was good on the day Migrant Help went to do an inspection, although most often it was difficult to eat.


The Home Office has allowed this to happen, whether because it did not monitor closely enough what was going on through the contracts with private companies that are acting on their behalf, or because it did not care about the physical and emotional well-being of people for whom it has a duty of care.

At the same time, the Home office has been putting out statements saying that everything is OK in the camps, and blaming the residents for the spread of Covid, and any difficulties arising. This is the hostile environment that the Government continues to create.

‘Contingency units’ are being used because the system has failed. The simple solution is to give Indefinite Leave to Remain to those who are undocumented or in the legal process, as per. our campaign:

We call upon the British and Irish States to act immediately so that all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the legal process in both the UK and Ireland are granted Status Now, as in Leave to Remain. In this way every human, irrespective of their nationality or citizenship can access healthcare, housing, food and the same sources of income from the State as everyone else.