Protests as Strains Grow at UK’s First ‘Migrant Camps’

Penally camp for asylum seekers in the UK

It’s now two months since the UK opened its first ‘migrant camps’ and strains have been felt both inside and outside the sites. There have been protests by asylum seekers and rallies by far-right groups and anti-racism activists, and even by one camp’s security staff.

One camp is at Napier Barracks near Folkestone in Kent, housing some 400 males of around 18-35. The other is near the tiny town of Penally on the Welsh coast, accommodating around 170 of an intended 230. The use of both sites for asylum seekers was announced by the Home Office abruptly in September without consultation with local authorities.

Visiting campaign groups, charities, local councillors, and the Welsh government have said that the facilities are ‘unacceptable’ and fail to meet basic human living standards. It seemed inevitable and only a matter of time before ‘disturbances’ started occurring. At the time of writing, a suicide attempt at one camp had just been reported.

With little resources available, protestors have held small demonstrations with placards and distribution of evidence of health and safety problems inside. Cramped rooms full of bunks where social distancing is impossible, blocked soap dispensers, bathrooms flooded, and stacks of undisposed waste have been circulated on images and video.

Visiting campaign groups, charities, local councillors and the Welsh government have said that the facilities are ‘unacceptable’ and fail to meet basic human living standards

At the Welsh camp, accommodation is said to be at least six to a room. At Napier Barracks the numbers vary, with as many as 28 in dorms with only two toilets. Along with sanitation problems, cold and poor insulation is a common complaint at the camp in Penally, and many also point out the negative impact of the fenced-in and barbed-wire military camp conditions on those that have fled conflict regions.

Asylum seekers make their feelings known through protests at the camps [Image: BBC]

Respecting a two-minute silence on Remembrance Day on 11 November, a gathering of refugees at the Penally camp demonstrated outside, holding cardboard signs written over with marker pens; messages essentially seeking to reiterate their status as asylum seekers not criminals and comparing the camp to prison.

At Penally, local police have complained of the added monitoring and call-out strains on their small size. And last week, the Tenby Observer reported that the camp’s security staff, working for AK Security, had called a strike due to ‘unpaid wages.’

Protesting also occurred at Napier Barracks on 17 November, with rowdier behaviour such as fence shaking. While understandable, such action is unhelpful, given that a far-right audience monitors the camp. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage uploaded another journalist, Jack Shenker’s, film of the incident to his Twitter account the same day to portray events negatively. 

Overall, the number of applications for asylum fell by around 40% in the second quarter to 4,850 from 8,455 in the previous quarter. However the coronavirus lockdown this year also prompted a rise in asylum seekers crossing the Channel. Farage and far-right pressure groups have used this to fuel a renewed wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Farage has now recently returned to incitement campaigns against immigrants to the UK, which could increase cases of far-rights groups seeking to cause harassment at the camps

Another anti-migrant trope also used heavily by Farage over the summer has been to project figures of enormous costs incurred by channel-crossing asylum seekers accommodated in hotels. Although the data was conjectured and inflated, he nonetheless incited right-wing groups to enter hotels with a view to harassing any immigrants.

After having been busy last month trying to support Donald Trump’s US election bid, Farage has now recently returned to incitement campaigns against immigrants to the UK, which could increase cases of far-rights groups seeking to cause harassment at the camps.

[Header image: BBC]