The UK immigration and prison officers have confirmed an inspection of barracks and Ministry of Defence sites housing asylum seekers will go ahead, following pressures from activists and MPs.
On Monday, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) will inspect barracks, Napier Barracks in Kent and Penally Camp in Pembrokeshire, with the assistance of HM Prison Inspectorate.
Napier and Penally have been in the news recently regarding poor access to healthcare and harsh living conditions faced by asylum seekers housed in the two camps. Since September, the two camps have held up to 600 men. In January, there was a COVID-19 outbreak at Napier, with 120 positive cases.
Migrants rights activists, lawyers, healthcare professionals and MPs have called for an independent investigation of the living conditions at the camps. They say the two sites are inappropriate for asylum accommodation, despite Home Office denials.
‘The Home Office has been evasive and dismissive ever since Plaid Cymru began raising questions about Penally in September, says Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts.
Also on Thursday, 35 prominent bishops from across the UK wrote to the home secretary, calling for an end to the use of military sites for asylum accommodation, and described the practice as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘entirely inappropriate’.
The inquiry will consist of interviews with residents and staff at the sites, an assessment of the premises and onsite facilities, and a review of relevant documentary evidence
When questioned about the COVID-19 compliance at Napier Barracks, immigration minister Chris Philip dismissed the criticisms, claiming that the site was ‘appropriate and “suitable” to accommodate asylum seekers.
In October, the prisons inspectorate had published a report which revealed various poor conditions asylum seekers are subjected to. The report found a shortage of dry clothing and other basic needs, and weaknesses in child safeguarding, at Tug Haven, where people are first rescued from the sea or beach.
Initially, ICBI had announced a broader inquiry into the Home Office’s use of barracks and hotels as contingency accommodation for asylum seekers, planning to conduct the investigation remotely, but has now decided to visit the two sites.
The inquiry will consist of interviews with residents and staff at the sites, an assessment of the premises and onsite facilities, and a review of relevant documentary evidence, says Chief Inspector David Bolt.
Reacting to the planned inspection, SNP’s shadow home secretary Stuart McDonald said he was pleased the inspection will be taking place, but believed ‘it should never have come to this’.