New investigation reveals terrible conditions for UK asylum seekers held in ex-military barracks

Shadia Edwards-Dashti at Napier Barracks
Support us and go ad-free

Over 400 UK asylum seekers are being ‘accommodated’ in conditions said to be unsanitary, overcrowded, and degrading, according to a new report by Shadia Edwards-Dashti for RT.

‘Worse we than anticipated’

In Napier Barracks | Asylum seekers reach boiling point, Edwards-Dashti reports from Folkestone, Kent where a former military housing block has been repurposed. Asylum seekers told the journalist, at times on condition of anonymity, that the beds are infested with bugs, residents have been self-harming, and that they are only permitted to leave the facility for two hours a day.

Edwards-Dashti told The Canary:

We had heard before going to investigate Napier Barracks that the situation was grim, but the desolate and eerie atmosphere certainly was worse than we anticipated.

She added:

The barbed wire and tall brick walls give off a very militant vibe, if not a detention centre- and for some of these men fleeing persecution that certainly can be detrimental to their mental health.

But almost every asylum speaker we spoke to that day said it was worse and the conditions were prison-like, and when you are fleeing authoritarian or war-torn countries that can be very triggering. It was very reminiscent of the scenes we saw on the American border during Trump’s presidency, locking up human beings in cages. It was sickeningly similar.  

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free
Refugees are not criminals

The film notes that the Home Office does not consider these people to be “criminals”, they are human beings “seeking protection” who “are not being detained”. The barracks are not considered to be a detention centre but rather a form of temporary accommodation for people waiting for their claims to be processed.

But when Edwards-Dashti attempted to speak to residents of Napier Barracks, through the chain-linked fence when some of them were in a courtyard, security officials warded them off. “The security say ‘no’, you can see, I need to talk but the security say ‘no'”, one of the residents tells Edwards-Dashti, before he is moved away from his side of the fence by a security officer in a blue bib.

Mobile phone footage taken from inside the barracks also shows what appears to be blood on the floors and on bedsheets, cramped living spaces, and a series of arguments between security and residents.

Edwards-Dashti says in the report:

There have been reports of protests and hunger strikes against the conditions. We’ve also heard allegations of rampant self-harm

Video taken from inside the barracks appears to substantiate the claims of protests.

The report also notes the existence of a confidentiality agreement, backed by the Official Secrets Act, which visitors must sign if they’re given access to the facility. Visitors are therefore prevented from speaking to the public about what they see inside the barracks.

Edwards-Dashti told The Canary:

It’s important for people to recognise that asylum seekers have left desperate situations, possibly fleeing persecution and oppression, they should be welcomed with open loving arms, not treated like criminals

Readers may recognise the countries of origin, and be at least somewhat aware of the direct or indirect role UK foreign policy has had upon them. These include Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Palestine, Somalia, and Kuwait.

Overcrowding undermines social distancing amid coronavirus outbreak

Edwards-Dashti added:

In terms of the barracks itself people must not compare the experience of the asylum seekers to soldiers who have inhabited them in the past. First of all, we are in the grips of a pandemic, and these guys are sharing quarters with 30 other men. By the government’s own laws, you can be fined £10,000 for a gathering of that size. Second of all, just because these men have come seeking asylum doesn’t mean that they are only entitled to the bare minimum. These guys are in tiny shared rooms and they are only allowed to leave once a day. They are constantly monitored like they have committed a crime, yet they have done nothing wrong.

At one point in the film, Adam Yassir, originally from Sudan, attempts to deliver food and clothes donations to the refugees but is prevented from doing so by security. Yassir, who is himself a refugee and runs a charity for other people like himself, now has to set-up in the park across the barracks for people to come to him during their brief time out. Yassir has provided support to the residents there since the facility was opened up in September 2020.

At one point in the report, police arrive in response to an alleged “incident” and they can be heard questioning Yassir and Edwards-Dashti. When the two ask the police what the alleged incident was, they change the subject. Ultimately, with no evidence of a crime, the officers leave.

Community reaction was on ‘both ends of the spectrum’

Edwards-Dashti told The Canary that “we did survey the local community a bit while we were there”. “The reaction was on both ends of the spectrum” she explained, including “sympathetic and compassionate opinions understanding asylum seekers plights and genuinely pleased they had a roof over their heads”. Although she added that “the majority were unaware of just how dire the conditions are under that roof”.

Not everyone shared the “compassionate opinions” Edwards-Dashti described, however.

“It’s no good, mate” one construction worker tells Edwards-Dashti, “they need to control it. Put them somewhere else, or send them back”. His colleague adds, “If you wanted to go somewhere to better for your family’s life, you’re gonna do it, but if you’re coming over here raping girls and doing other things like that committing crimes it’s no good”.

Edwards-Dashti added:

But then we witnessed the most hostile and aggressive far right rhetoric, fanning the flames of hate. I know racism exists but this was not even a race matter, this was sub human sentiment being spouted. Online, there has been a lot of anti-migrant reaction to our documentary saying ‘they should be sent back’, ‘they are illegal’, ‘they want 4-star hotels’ etc. 

Edwards-Dashti concluded:

It’s beyond upsetting to say the least and an incomprehensible point of view

The Home Office was repeatedly contacted for a right of reply. Despite a government spokesperson promising to return with a response to the allegations in the report, no reply was received by the time of publication.

Feature image via YouTube/Napier Barracks | Asylum seekers reach boiling point

Support us and go ad-free

Get involved

  • Watch the documentary short Napier Barracks | Asylum seekers reach boiling point.
  • Write to your MP and ask them to investigate the allegations and ensure that asylees are treated humanely, compassionately and in a coronavirus-compliant setting.
  • Join or support a refugee/asylee/migrant support organisation such as:

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. A camp full of men of fighting age who have passed through several safe countries to get here. Can’t see many women and children there. No sympathy from me. Rather than genuinely listening to the locals who have grievances with this camp, you portray them as extreme right wingers. Typical liberal elitism on display as we see from the likes of Corbyn and Lineker who’s lives aren’t impacted by the arrival of these people. Your attitude is reminiscent of Thornberry sneering at the English working class.
      We have no idea who these people are. Isis themselves said they would use refugees as cover to get Jihadis into European countries (See Salman Abedi, kindly rescued by the Royal Navy). That said I think we should give them a house and an acre of land each. On the Falkland Islands, where they’re safe from persecution. If they’re genuine refugees rather than scrounging economic migrants they’d welcome the offer.

      1. “You portray them as extreme right wingers…”

        No, the people interviewed were people who either did this themselves or who showed that their opinion is all over the place. The first woman interviewed seemed to go some way to have woken herself up in the middle of her statement, perhaps realising that she was parroting aggressive local men.

        Sadly I have seen how that can come about. I know several women myself who are victims of the violence and abuse of in almost every instance white English men, sometimes several over years or decades, who somehow still see a supposed enemy elsewhere – they find themselves believing they’re safer among men who have been violent to them than being open to new faces our country’s recent descent into normalising far right attitudes has misled them over.

        The whole country has serious problems with normalised far right viewpoints, and Kent somehow is a visibly and audibly grim example. I’m stuck in Gravesend myself but know Folkestone well enough to know that this video is accurate and no distortion. And for all the armchair fascists’ spacegoating of people on benefits it seems to be those who are earning well enough – not great but better than many – in other words the kind of person found plentifully in Kent, who end up aggressively chippy about anyone unlike themselves.

        What you’ve said is full of fear and imaginings and not reality. I suspect what it would be rational for you to fear is closer to home than where you invest your fear currently. People who have misled you as to what it is to be English and working class.

    2. The only thing I can say is when myself and my platoon of thirty slept in these missen huts and we most probably paid for our roof over our head and for food we enjoyed it has being army it was better thAn that hole in the ground

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.