Skip to main content

Update on #ClosetheBarracks campaign

With thanks to Asylum Matters for this update on Asylum accommodation. This article follows up on our Please Act on the Humanitarian Crisis in the Barracks article in January. Big thanks to everyone who has engaged by signing petitions and writing to their MPS.
Campaigners continue to work hard towards the closure of unsuitable prison sites to accommodate people seeking asylum. Sites which are experienced as prison like, unsafe and overcrowded by people who are already traumatised.   

The Home Office confirmed last Tuesday it was dropping plans to accommodate 200 people seeking asylum at a site next door to Yarl’s Wood IRC. This came following interventions by residents, faith leaders, local political representatives and campaigners. Rosie Newbigging, who crowdfunded for legal action against the proposed site, said ‘It just goes to show that if you fight back, you might just win’ whilst a local MP, Mohammed Yasin stated  ‘It was a terrible idea to house a vulnerable group of people in hostile, inappropriate and unsafe accommodation in the middle of a pandemic.’ Huge congratulations to all those who mobilised around this development and got it stopped.

In Parliament, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard from advocates Dr Jill O’Leary from the Helen Bamber Foundation, Theresa Schliecher from Medical Justice and Asylum Matters on institutional asylum accommodation. The Committee heard compelling evidence of the unacceptable conditions in the ex MoD sites, and of the pressing need for people to be supported in our communities in accommodation which promotes integration. You can watch the session here (from 11.17) and coverage is here.

Further in the House of Commons, Priti Patel MP and Chris Philp MP were questioned by MPs following revelations that the Government’s Equality Impact Assessment for the use of the sites stated that the provision of more ‘generous’ accommodation would ‘undermine public confidence in the asylum system’. In the House of Lords Lord Dubs asked an oral question, prompting a cross-party show of opposition to the barracks.

Meanwhile, thirty-five leading Bishops from across the UK wrote to the Home Secretary to protest the use of barracks. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Reverend Paul Butler, told the Independent ‘The breadth of support across the wider church in England and Wales demonstrates the strength of opinion on this pressing issue.’

In Wales, it was reported that the Home Office was pressing ahead with plans to continue the use of the Penally site, despite the fact that it does not yet have planning permission. A strong statement from the Welsh Government’s Deputy Minister and Chief Whip Jane Hutt stated Penally ‘is unsafe, and must close urgently’ and ‘the decision to use the Penally Camp has undermined our ability to implement an effective migrant integration policy, as set out in our Nation of Sanctuary Plan’.

As messages of support continued for the residents of Napier, a hearing in the administrative court of the High Court of Justice ordered that a man resident in the barracks be urgently rehoused, paving the way for a further hearing on the matter of Judicial Review. The court ruled that the claimant had made a strong prima facie case that the accommodation was ‘wholly inadequate’ for him and highlighted in particular the ‘prison-like’ conditions and risk of Coronavirus. In another development it has been reported that expert information submitted with a planning application for the Napier site seven years ago stated that the barracks were ‘never intended for long term use’ and did ‘‘not meet acceptable standards of accommodation’.

In a further development, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has announced plans to inspect both Penally and Napier, alongside HM Inspectorate of Prisons, this week.

Evidence on the unsuitability of the sites continues to pile up, including on the risk of Covid in the sites and a lack of access to healthcare. Now, more than ever, we must #CloseTheBarracks and house people seeking asylum safely within our communities:

ACTIONS you can take now:

There are also plans to build a ‘prison-style’ immigration camp on the site of former notorious Medomsley Detention Centre in County Durham and we expect mobilisation against this in the coming weeks.

City of Sanctuary will endeavour to update this article and keep you informed of any other actions you can take. We a want to live in a country that is better than this. A country which has a safe, fair and effective asylum system that is just and humane. We are better than this. We want people seeking sanctuary to feel welcomed and safe.