Freedom from Torture, along with Choose Love, Detention Action, Doctors of the World, and Helen Bamber Foundation, wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel urgently requesting the closure of military barracks used as asylum accommodation.
Read the letter in full below.
Rt Hon Priti Patel MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department
2 Marsham Street
29 January 2021
Dear Home Secretary,
We write to urgently request the closure of military barracks used as asylum accommodation. The predictable health crisis during a pandemic in Napier barracks, where 120 asylum seekers are reported to have contracted Covid-19, shows a disregard for the human rights protections this country prides itself in upholding. .
This outbreak also represents a public health risk to the whole population and continued use of barracks is undermining the efforts and sacrifices made by the British public to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
The concerns are not new. To take just one of many examples: in a letter to you dated 26 November 2020, NGOs and professional health bodies, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Faculty of Public Health, warned that these sites are unsuitable as accommodation for people seeking asylum.
The lack of access to adequate and appropriate healthcare services, the public health risks resulting from a lack of compliance with the Covid-19 regulations, and the risk of re-traumatisation triggered by accommodating residents in former military barracks make these sites dangerous both to individuals and to public health. The efforts that your department has made to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission in the barracks have clearly not succeeded.
Not only were earlier warnings from the undersigned and others dismissed, but it appears that the voices of the residents themselves have been ignored, and even that attempts have been made to suppress their concerns. We are aware of reports, which we believe to be credible, that residents have been threatened with negative implications for their asylum claims if they exercise their right to raise awareness of the conditions in which they are living.
We welcome the recent announcement to start moving residents out of the Penally barracks and into suitable dispersal accommodation, in line with Home Office policy to prioritise community-based housing for asylum seekers. We also understand that some residents from the Napier barracks will be temporarily moved into more suitable accommodation in response to the life-threatening Covid-19 outbreak at the site.
We would encourage this action to be taken as a priority. Such a move will also allow for early identification of vulnerability and an assessment of how such needs can be met within a community setting.
There has been wide national support for this view. As organisations providing support and advice to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, we urge you to close the Napier and Penally barracks entirely and to move all the residents to safe and suitable accommodation in the community.
The Covid-19 outbreak in Napier could have been avoided if you had acted early on repeated warnings from trusted stakeholders and residents, and closed the camps last year.
Only decisive and protective action can now avoid an even greater public health crisis within asylum accommodation.
We would be happy to discuss these issues with you at any time.
Josie Naughton, CEO, Choose Love
Bella Sankey, Director, Detention Action
Anna Miller, Head of Policy & Advocacy, Doctors of the World
Sonya Sceats, CEO, Freedom from Torture
Kerry Smith, CEO, Helen Bamber Foundation
A copy of this letter has also been emailed to:
Chris Philp MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts)