Insight into the government’s choice of accommodation for asylum seekers that appears to place political gain over human rights.
Hundreds of asylum seekers have been living in ex-military barracks since last September awaiting decisions on asylum claims or deportation. The conditions within the Napier Barracks, in Kent, and Penally Barracks, in Pembrokeshire, have been widely criticised by human rights campaigners and humanitarian groups. Yet the Home Office has repeatedly defended the suitability of this accommodation.
The revealed Equality Impact Assessment conducted alongside the plan to repurpose Military Of Defence sites outlines an internal government concern that allowing asylum seekers ‘any provision of support over and beyond what is necessary…to meet housing and subsistence needs could undermine public confidence in the asylum system.’
The legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Chai Patel, condemned the assessment, saying ‘The government implied these cramped and disused barracks were being used as temporary housing because there was no alternative. But this document reveals that the Home Office has been prioritising playing ‘tough’ on migration over the lives of extremely vulnerable people, who’ve been placed in conditions reminiscent of those they were fleeing.’
Despite the assessment stating that beds in sleeping quarters would be placed two metres apart and regular cleaning would be carried out to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infections, charities such as the Red Cross have labelled the barracks ‘inappropriate and inhumane’.
Humanitarian campaigners, lawyers, and human rights activists have also expressed concerns about coronavirus safety measures. Lack of access to legal advice, poor healthcare, and lack of consideration of the trauma many of these people have suffered have been reported.
Since raising the alarm on conditions, 100 people tested positive for Covid-19 at the Napier Barracks site and were moved. With 120 more left behind with 180 that tested negative, tensions over unsafe conditions resulted in a fire at the facility last week with five men arrested and nine detained in connection to the incident.
This document reveals that the Home Office has been prioritising playing ‘tough’ on migration over the lives of extremely vulnerable people
The controversy surrounding the assessment was commented on by Doctors Of The World Infectious Disease Consultant, Dr Claire van Nispen tot Pannerden. She described the conditions as “beyond negligent” as people from different family groups are forced to share accommodation and facilities, raising that the assessment fails to properly address the pandemic.
Before the decision to re-purpose the barracks last year, Shadow Immigration Minister Holly Lynch publicly apologised for asylum seekers being housed in a hotel, saying that locking people in accommodation where there was no ability to self-isolate was an ‘affront to the values of the British people.’
The apology came after Ukip leader Nigel Farage filmed himself outside multiple hotels, claiming that “illegal migrants” were living inside. Sharing the videos succeeded in the aim of rousing support from his followers in contempt of British taxpayers funding ‘luxury’ accommodation and meals.
‘Any provision of support over and beyond what is necessary…could undermine public confidence in the asylum system’ says government
Despite liberal politicians and Twitter users extensively reprimanding the videos, the revelation of the government’s internal stance suggests the anti-immigrant group’s tactics had the desired effect.
Government spokespeople claim it’s incorrect to assess former military housing as “not good enough for asylum claimants”. Yet five months of the MOD housing plan has demonstrated disturbing consequences to the physical and mental health of those placed there. Many of these people are victims of human trafficking, war refugees, and abuse survivors.
Deliberately placing these asylum seekers in what have become dangerous conditions may have been intended to appear tough on migrants. But, this action may instead undermine the narrative of generosity and support the government has aimed to convey to the public.
[Header Image: BBC]