The outrageous reason why the Home Office is housing refugees in ‘horrible’ conditions

Penally Barracks
Jasmine Norden

In September 2020, the Home Office began to house refugees in former Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites.

Two military camps are being used – Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire, and Napier Barracks in Kent. As The Canary previously reportedthe poor conditions at military barrack camps have increasingly been the subject of protests.

But it turns out that there’s an outrageous reason why refugees are being forced to endure these appalling conditions. The Home Office is housing refugees in barracks because of concern about confidence in the asylum system.

The Independent reported on 31 January that it had seen internal documents saying “the need to control immigration” justified the provision of “less generous” housing for refugees.

The documents

The Independent saw a copy of the equality impact assessment of using military barracks as refugee camps.

The assessment stated:

Any provision of support over and beyond what is necessary to enable the individuals to meet their housing and subsistence needs could undermine public confidence in the asylum system and hamper wider efforts to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the general community and amongst other migrant groups.

It also said there is a difference between British citizens in need of welfare assistance and refugees.

The camps

In December, The Canary interviewed refugees at the Penally camp. They said there were few measures to protect against coronavirus (Covid-19), that they lacked privacy, and that they felt at risk from racist demonstrators outside.

One refugee said:

It’s horrible here, I can’t describe how difficult. And every day it is getting worse.

People are really depressed and we have no hope. We always ask each other ‘why is it us that were sent here’.

In January, more than a hundred residents at Napier Barracks tested positive for coronavirus.

Opposition to the camps

Community organisations have been urging the government to move refugees out of the military barracks.

Refugee organisations and campaigners wrote a letter in December to Chris Philp, under-secretary of state for immigration compliance, that said:

We believe that it’s unviable to keep people in barracks; the accommodation is not suitable for vulnerable people and over the last few days there have been suicide attempts, hunger strikes and protests about conditions at the Napier Barracks. It is impossible to socially distance when there are as many as 28 people sharing two toilets and up to 14 people sleeping in a room. As you know, there have already been a number of Covid-19 cases in the barracks which shows the difficulty in keeping the virus contained in such conditions.

There have also been several protests outside the camps and in cities about the conditions.

Political gain

In light of what the documents reveal, opposition to the camps has increased.

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) legal director, Chai Patel, told the Independent:

The government implied these cramped and disused barracks were being used as temporary housing because there was no alternative.

But this document reveals that Home Office has been jeopardising people’s health for partly political ends – prioritising playing ‘tough’ on migration over the lives of extremely vulnerable people, who’ve been placed in conditions reminiscent of those they were fleeing.

The Home Office will have to answer for the decision to endanger the health of refugees to control immigration. This revelation showcases some of the worst of anti-refugee policies in this country – people housed in the camps deserve proper, safe housing.

Featured image via Corporate Watch

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