In a letter to Priti Patel, MPs slam use of barracks for refugee housing

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It was a “serious error of judgment” to think that military barracks could be suitable to house refugees and asylum seekers, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) has said.

And cross-party members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention have written to home secretary Priti Patel. They’ve said they “entirely agree” with the concerns of ICIBI David Bolt, whom they met in March.

“Utterly unacceptable”

The MPs branded the conditions at Napier Barracks in Kent and Penally Camp in Wales as “utterly unacceptable”. Almost 200 people in the Penally Camp tested positive for coronavirus (Covid-19) during an outbreak in January and February.

Both sites have housed hundreds of refugees since September. This despite Public Health England warning the Home Office that it was unsuitable.

Migrant camp at Penally
Penally Camp in Wales (ICIBI/HMIP)

The letter, signed by 21 MPs, states:

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We do not believe such sites provide the safe, stable accommodation that people seeking asylum – man, trafficking and other serious trauma –  need in order to recover and rebuild their lives.

The ICIBI and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) inspected conditions at the barracks. Their report has laid bare the extent of the concerns raised.

In their letter, the MPs condemn the conditions as “utterly unacceptable”. And they say the report highlights “serious failings on the part of the Home Office in terms of leadership, planning and accountability”.

Conditions

Key problems included the ineffective safeguarding of residents. These may include children, vulnerable people and those with mental health issues. Other issues included:

  • Filthy conditions or “variable at best” levels of cleanliness.
  • Cramped spaces that made social distancing difficult.
  • Lack of information for residents about how long they would have to stay at the sites or how their claims were progressing.
  • The negative mental impact that staying in these conditions has on residents.
“Very serious risk of harm”

The MPs said they’re “extremely concerned” that the Home Office is still using Napier Barracks for refugee housing. And they’re calling for it to be shut down, stating that people staying there for at least 60 to 90 days are at “very serious risk of harm”.

Penally Camp’s closure was announced in March.

Patel and immigration minister Chris Philp have both previously defended the use of such sites, despite the Home Office facing repeated criticism over the decision.

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