With thanks to Asylum Matters our partners for this helpful update on the appalling state of asylum accommodation.
The Home Office’s decision to house people seeking asylum in army barracks has remained under intense scrutiny, as campaigners and politicians continue to fight to #CloseTheBarracks.
Hundreds joined an online rally hosted by Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants to demand the closure of Napier and Penally military barracks; while the Folkestone & Hythe District Council, where Napier Barracks is based, passed a motion by a significant majority confirming the Local Authority’s objections to the Kent site, which cross-party local councillors agreed is “not fit for purpose and should be closed”.
At a High Court hearing of a case brought by six residents of Napier barracks, the court heard that the Home Office had ignored advice from Public Health England warning against the use of dormitories at the barracks during the pandemic, with the Home Office conceding that it was arguable that the use of Napier barracks to house the group was unlawful and in breach of human rights. The same day, it was revealed the site was deemed not to meet “acceptable standards for accommodation” when it was inspected in 2013 for its suitability for housing military personnel.
Meanwhile, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has carried out an in-person inspection of Napier and Penally Barracks, joined by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons including interviews and surveys of residents and staff at the facility.
On Wednesday 24 February, the Home Secretary gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, including on asylum accommodation. While the Home Secretary argued that the barracks, in which residents were made to sleep in dormitories of up to 28 per room, are safe and abide by all relevant guidance, it was revealed during the evidence session that 178 cases of Covid-19 had been identified at Napier Barracks in January and a further 19 in February. The chair of the committee, Yvette Cooper MP, gave a strong response, saying “this looks like pretty clear evidence to me that those dormitories were not safe”. She dismissed the Home Secretary’s claim that this was a result of residents “not following the rules”, accusing her of blaming the residents of Napier barracks for a situation they had no control over. You can view clips from the evidence session on this twitter thread by Refugee Action or re-watch here.
As well as facing robust criticism for its use of military barracks, the Home Office’s network of hotels employed as contingency accommodation for people seeking asylum have come under further criticism for a catalogue of issues including allegations of sexual harassment, intimidation and claims that staff working in the hotels have been paid significantly below the minimum wage; a legal challenge to de facto 23-hour a day ‘curfews’ within some hotels; and coverage of the story of an asylum seeking woman who was evicted onto the streets from hotel accommodation without notice after taking a walk and being reported to the Home Office for absconding.
A teacher from one of the 24 Schools of Sanctuary in The Wirral drew our attention to the locking out of residents from their hotel accommodation in a contract dispute between the hotel and the Contract provider – Serco.
The Home Office is planning to “accelerate” the movement of asylum seekers out of hotels and into long-term housing. People seeking asylum will start being moved out of the accommodation as part of a process called Operation Oak. There are said to be around 9,500 in hotels at present and the Home Office has said that it would move people into properties where local authorities had supported procurement.
Concerns have also been raised about the abysmal state of dispersal accommodation provided by Serco for people seeking asylum in Derby.
Now, more than ever, we must #CloseTheBarracks and continue to advocate for people seeking asylum to be housed safely within our communities, in accommodation that is safe, appropriate and suitable for their needs.
You can take action through the links below:
Take part in Refugee Action’s write to your MP action
38 Degrees has also opened a petition to close the Napier barracks
Hastings Community of Sanctuary has a petition to close all barracks
See also our previous articles on the #CloseThe Barracks for more background information. February 16th Update
Please Act on the Humanitarian Crisis in the Barracks 26th January and New Campaign Action on Asylum Accommodation December 21st