More than 60 neighborhood organisations working with migrants kept in detention and refugees have advised ministers to think about alternative lodging to the former army barracks currently being used to house asylum seekers following damning reports on conditions at the sites.
Napier barracks in Kent and Penally barracks in Pembrokeshire, which between them hold more than 600 men, were turned over from the Ministry of Defence to the Office in September to be utilized as accommodation for asylum candidates.
The Office has been struck by a raft of reports declaring bad access to healthcare, denial of access to legal representatives, overbearing use of privacy contracts and issues over safety and personal privacy at the sites. There has been at least one validated suicide attempt at one of the barracks.
In a letter to the migration compliance minister, Chris Philp, the organisations, led by the Association of Visitors to Migration Detainees (Avid), highlight parallels between the barracks and the UK’s system of indefinite migration detention and requires community-based alternatives to be sought.
Other signatories include Refugee Action, Detention Action, Care4Calais, Migrant Rights Network, Kent Refugee Action Network (Kran), Doctors of the World UK, Choose Love/Help Refugees, Liberty, Jesuit Refugee Service UK and Samphire.
Ali McGinley, the director of Avid, said: “There is no shortage of evidence that the UK’s system of migration detention does very little aside from cause long-term damage: to the people held, but also to their families and communities. We have actually seen this very first hand over many years. Choosing to ignore this by reproducing the worst injustices of this system in the barracks accommodation is reckless, harmful and puts much more individuals at risk.”
The letter to Philp describes how the isolated locations of the barracks have actually left residents exposed to abuse by reactionary activists, who have been able to easily locate the former MoD websites.
The Home Office has said the sites are short-term contingency accommodation for asylum applicants who will eventually be transferred to dispersed accommodation such as homes or flats while their claims are thought about. It said it meant to use the sites for a year.
Main figures revealed that in September, 76% of individuals awaiting a decision on their asylum claim had actually been waiting for more than six months, up from 58% in September 2019. The letter states there is growing evidence that handling people’s cases while they stay in the community with access to assistance is both more economical and more reliable.
Provided the significant backlog in processing asylum applications, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, it is time to think about alternatives, the letter states.
Stephen Hale, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “We have major issues about the psychological and physical health of often traumatised people forced to live behind barbed wire and high fences so near to each other in the middle of a pandemic. Individuals require access to medical and legal assistance that just can not be supplied in those conditions.
” Office ministers are stopping working in their task of care to individuals in the asylum system. It needs to urgently work with service providers to find better lodging in a broader variety of areas across the nation.”
The Home Office has actually been approached for comment.