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Home Office urged to stop housing asylum seekers in barracks

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA</span>
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Housing survivors of torture or other serious forms of violence in barracks ‘harmful’, all-party report says

A cross-party group of parliamentarians is calling on the government to end its use of controversial barracks accommodation for people seeking asylum, in a new report published on Thursday.

The report also recommends the scrapping of government plans to expand barracks-style accommodation for up to 8,000 asylum seekers. It refers to accommodation, including Napier barracks in Kent, which is currently being used to house hundreds of asylum seekers, as “quasi-detention” due to visible security measures, surveillance, shared living quarters and isolation from the wider community.

The report follows an inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention into the use of sites like Napier, which are identified as “fundamentally unsuitable” as asylum accommodation for survivors of torture, trafficking or other serious forms of violence.

The APPG inquiry panel urges the government to ensure that people seeking asylum are housed in safe accommodation in the community that supports their wellbeing and recovery from trauma and allows them to build links with their community.

In March this year, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration & Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found two of the sites, Napier Barracks and Penally Camp, the latter of which has now closed, to be “impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation”.

Related: Journalist gets police apology for arrest over Kent barracks photos

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central and chair of the APPG on immigration detention, said: “The report makes for sober reading. It has highlighted the myriad ways in which the Home Office is comprehensively failing some of the most vulnerable people in society. Those forced to stay in quasi-detention accommodation have included children, people who have survived torture or trafficking, and other at-risk groups. Our worst fears have been confirmed that this type of accommodation is not only inappropriate, but downright harmful.”

One asylum seeker previously housed in barracks accommodation said: “It would be difficult to design a system that more perfectly delivers despair and deteriorating human health and mental capacity than these ‘asylum camps’. My initial reaction was shock as I was driven through the barbed wire-topped gates of an army camp and faced with a black metal firing target of a soldier. Between us we had fled torture, false imprisonment, war and civil conflict. We now found ourselves inside exactly the sort of institution many of us had already experienced in our home countries and which brought back terrible memories and stirred up traumas.”

In August this year, the Home Office extended use of Napier barracks to 2025 – it was originally intended to be used only until September 2021. This decision is being challenged in the high court by a Kent resident. The court has granted permission for an expedited hearing into the case.

Dan Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, who is bringing the high court challenge against the continuing use of the barracks, welcomed the court’s decision.“Government inspectors, health experts and many others have highlighted the harm caused to asylum seekers by housing them in military camp settings such as Napier Barracks. But there are also wider concerns about ‘othering’ asylum seekers in this way, and, for local people, about the use of this large site for this use over such a long period,” he said.

A Home Office spokesperson said:“Military barracks sites were previously used to house military personnel. To suggest they are not good enough for asylum seekers is an insult.

“Residents are not detained at Napier, they are provided with three meals a day and have their basic needs catered for. Our new Nationality and Borders Bill will create an immigration system that is fair but firm and fix our broken asylum system.”

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