Inspection of barracks housing asylum seekers Napier barracks

Covid-19 Outbreak Follows Protests At UK ‘Migrant Camps’

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Asylum seekers staged protests at the UK’s two newly established migrant camps last week, and a coronavirus outbreak was reported over the weekend at one of them.

On Friday night, at least eight asylum seekers living at Napier Barracks in Folkstone were believed to have tested positive for coronavirus, ITV news reported, with correspondent Dan Rivers citing asylum seekers within the camp as sources, all of whom asked to remain unnamed.

The news channel also revealed a brief video clip from inside the camp demonstrating very little social distancing or mask usage taking place within the camp’s dining area. Over the weekend, the Home Office confirmed to varied sources that it was aware of the outbreak. 

Asylum seekers talking to ITV said that they now live in fear of a mass outbreak taking place at the camp which houses 400 people. The outbreak itself occurred just after a week of protests that saw a number of them sleeping outside to protest over cramped living conditions.

Various protests have persisted at the camp since Christmas Eve, principally stressing the impossibility of social distancing, and the infection risks largely due to cramped spaces, with some 15 sharing sleeping rooms and 34 sharing a single shower.

The site is a former military camp that’s been used since September. It’s repeatedly been condemned as inadequate for long-term use or housing asylum seekers, especially those that are likely to have mental health conditions such as PTSD or depression.

Asylum seekers detained in a UK camp hold up a sheet protesting their living conditions
Asylum seekers protest the living conditions at the Napier Camp[Image: Care4Calais]

According to the charity Care4Calais, there have been a number of suicide attempts. The Home Office doesn’t comment or confirm such issues. Last week, residents also protested by gathering at the camp fence, chanting and waving a banner.

One asylum seeker told ITV that those infected with the virus don’t seem to be self-isolating and were moving around the camp unrestrictedly. Quarantining didn’t seem in place, either. Another stressed that conditions are such that self-isolation would be impossible in the case of an outbreak.

Protests have also been staged at another new migrant camp that was set up at the same time in Penally, Wales. The site had also previously been an army camp. Protests were over similar complaints over cramped space along with the delays and uncertainty in waiting for asylum claims to be processed.

Delays and uncertainty over claims aren’t likely to change in the near future given that the backlog of people awaiting an initial decision on their case is at a record high level of 60,578 with 76% waiting over six months.

A number of asylum seekers in Penally protested last Wednesday and Thursday by marching to the nearby town of Tenby, according to local press, possibly unaware of breaching Wales’ Tier 4 lockdown rules. Local residents commented on the lack of social distancing among them. The matter is being investigated by local police.

So far no coronavirus cases at the Welsh camp have been reported although the asylum seekers have similarly complained of cramped spaces making social distancing very difficult.

Meanwhile, a Covid-19 outbreak was also reported last week at the Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow, which is the third IRC to have an outbreak so far following one at Brook House, near Gatwick, and another at Morton Hall, near Lincoln.

[Header Image: Care4Calais]

Written by
Raoul Walawalker