This post is being updated with reports of atrocities around the army camp accommodation, and other Home Office plans to accommodate people in new sites:
Updated 24 February 2021: Home Affairs Select Committee: Home Secretary questioned on the work of the department
[Extract] Q94 Stuart C. McDonald: Good morning to our witnesses. I want to turn now to the issue of asylum accommodation, particularly contingency accommodation, including military barracks. Mr Rycroft, can I ask you first about some of the advice and research the Home Office has done? We have received a lot of evidence that the military barracks are in pretty disgraceful conditions and that there are wider problems with contingency accommodation, so I want to dig down into what the Home Office relies on when it disputes that evidence. For example, could I ask about the following documents and whether they are publicly available? There is an equality impact assessment about the use of barracks that has featured in the newspapers. Is that publicly available?
Matthew Rycroft: First of all, let me assure the Committee that the Home Office takes our statutory obligations extremely seriously. We have a statutory obligation to provide accommodation for all asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute in this country, and we do provide that. We have a variety of different ways of providing that accommodation, whether it is through what we call dispersal accommodation or some of the contingency accommodation, which includes hotels, former student accommodation and, in two cases, former military barracks. Let me say that both the two barracks in question have recently housed members of the British armed forces—
Q95 Stuart C. McDonald: Several years ago. In fairness, I think we know all this. The equality impact assessment that was done before using those two barracks—is that in the public domain?
Matthew Rycroft: We do not routinely publish equality impact assessments. That is a case-by-case decision each time. We will look again at whether we can publish this one.
Q96 Stuart C. McDonald: It would be very helpful for the Committee to see that, if we could. There is also reference in the newspapers to advice from Public Health England from 7 September that suggested that dormitory accommodation would be completely inappropriate during the pandemic. Is that advice in the public domain, or would you be willing to send it to the Committee?
Matthew Rycroft: Just to clarify, Public Health England did not say it would be completely inappropriate. In fact, they give us advice on how to make dormitory-style and other shared accommodation covid-safe. It is that advice which we have followed to the letter.
Q97 Stuart C. McDonald: Can we see that, then? Because that does not really tally with the understanding we have of it through the newspapers. The newspapers may well be wrong, but how are we supposed to do our job unless we can see that advice?
Matthew Rycroft: There is all sorts of advice that you can see. There are also court cases ongoing which it would be wrong of me to prejudice.
Q98 Stuart C. McDonald: Would you be willing to share that advice from 7 September with us?
Matthew Rycroft: We can certainly have to have a look at that, but, as I say, it would be wrong to prejudice any ongoing judicial proceedings.
Q99 Stuart C. McDonald: Okay. More broadly, there was an independent review of asylum accommodation carried out, I think, by Human Applications. Is that going to be shared with the Committee or published?
Matthew Rycroft: Again, it was private advice to help us back at the time when we were setting up this additional asylum accommodation—
Q100 Stuart C. McDonald: Okay. And the review of what happened in Glasgow—is that going to be published? That is something the Committee has asked to see previously.
Matthew Rycroft: It is the same answer, Mr McDonald. We can have a look at it case by case. We would not routinely make these things public, because they are private advice, but we can look at them case by case.
Q101 Stuart C. McDonald: You see the problem, Home Secretary, is that we have an abundance of evidence that has come from lots of reliable organisations telling us that there are huge problems in contingency accommodation, particularly in these barracks. The Home Office says, “No, it’s all fine,” but then offers nothing to us to prove that is the case, or on how it has been reassured that that is the case.
Priti Patel: First of all, Mr McDonald, I know the Chair of the Committee has been in touch with the Home Office and written to us about institutional accommodation. It is really important first of all to put this within the context of the coronavirus pandemic and how contingency accommodation has been stood up throughout the pandemic. It applies to other aspects of Government as well in terms of finding accommodation. What I can say—Matthew, our permanent secretary, has already said this—is that it is right that we work with independent organisations in the way in which we do, but also with Public Health England. That advice is not static advice. Just in terms of the maintenance of our accommodation estate, we are constantly working with Public Health England.
Now, I recognise and fully appreciate the individuals who have come to the Committee and given their views and their advice, but some of the information that has been put in the public domain is incorrect. The permanent secretary has also made it abundantly clear that we do have court cases taking place right now. So inevitably we will provide information where we can. We will certainly write back to the Chair and the Committee about our plans around contingency accommodation, exit and recovery plans, and working with local authorities, because this is not for the Home Office alone.
Q102 Stuart C. McDonald: If you could write, that would be helpful. When the permanent secretary appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in October, he confirmed that it was a goal of the Home Office to move away, again, from the use of barracks and hotels as contingency accommodation and back to the model of community dispersal. Is that the plan, Home Secretary—to get away from this as soon as possible?
Priti Patel: We do want to move out of hotel accommodation, yes.
Q103 Stuart C. McDonald: And military barracks?
Priti Patel: This is contingency accommodation that has been adapted and stood up—
Q104 Stuart C. McDonald: To be clear, your answer suggests that you have no intention of closing the military barracks.
Priti Patel: This is not about closing military barracks. I think we should look at this within the context of Government estate and Government accommodation. It is right that we look at Government estate and Government accommodation as potential contingency accommodation for asylum seekers. I think the public would expect that. This is not just about an automatic default position of putting people into hotels—
Q105 Stuart C. McDonald: I think the public will be horrified that you appear to be saying that you are going to continue using military barracks to accommodate asylum seekers, yet we are not getting any information or justification for that. No evidence is provided to us. The evidence that we have seen is horrific. I cannot believe that it is not part of the plan to close military barracks accommodation.
Priti Patel: As the permanent secretary has said already this morning, this is military accommodation that has housed our servicemen and women, and it has housed servicemen and women recently.
Q106 Stuart C. McDonald: If you were to put military personnel there now, it is you who are insulting our servicemen, not folk who criticise it.
Priti Patel: Not at all—
Stuart C. McDonald: It’s apples and oranges anyway.
Priti Patel: If I may finish and answer the question, we will continue to look at Government estate. It is right that the Government have a wide footprint in terms of estate. It is not just about barracks. Matthew has already said that there are other facilities that we will look at, and we will also adapt them. Napier and Penally have been adapted in line with and in light of Public Health England guidance. That is absolutely the right thing to do, and as I have said—
Stuart C. McDonald: If you could write. We only have another 30 seconds or so.
Priti Patel: [Inaudible] and Public Health England, absolutely to make sure that we have the right kind of accommodation in place. I will, of course, as you have already heard me say, respond to the letter from the Chair of the Committee, which was very specific about institutional accommodation.
Updated 21 February 2021: Guardian: Asylum seekers ‘subjected to sexual harassment’ in government hotels
Home Office urged to investigate allegations, including unsafe living conditions, while staff say they are paid below the legal wage
The Home Office has been urged to investigate the network of hotels holding thousands of asylum seekers following allegations of sexual harassment, intimidation and claims that staff have been paid significantly below the minimum wage.
A joint investigation by the Observer and ITV News suggests privately contracted staff at some asylum hotels have been paid little over £5.50 an hour.
Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee, has called on the Home Office to investigate if the private firms running the hotels are “fit for purpose”.
Among the investigation’s findings are that asylum seekers have been unlawfully threatened by private contractor staff that the police will be called if they leave their hotel.
Updated 17 February 2021: Guardian: Inside Napier: the former army barracks housing asylum seekers
The Guardian’s home affairs correspondent, Jamie Grierson, discusses the government’s decision to use two former army barracks, Napier and Penally, to house up to 600 vulnerable asylum seekers. Amid allegations of cover-ups, poor access to healthcare and legal advice, and crowded conditions, one former resident describes the impact Napier had on him
Matin (a pseudonym) tells Anushka Asthana about his stay in Napier, a former army barracks near Folkestone, Kent. Within days of getting there he contracted scabies and later Covid-19. After a fire in one of the housing blocks, there was no heating for days.
The Guardian’s home affairs correspondent, Jamie Grierson,examines why the government has decided to use two former army barracks, Napier and Penally in Wales, to house up to 600 vulnerable asylum seekers. The barracks, run by the private contractor Clearsprings, have been criticised for their crowded conditions, limited access to healthcare and legal advice and, more recently, a significant Covid-19 outbreak infecting more than one in four of the 400 residents at Napier.
Anushka also talks to Dr Jill O’Leary, the lead doctor with the Helen Bamber Foundation’s medical advisory service, who describes the enormous mental health strain that conditions at the barracks have had on the asylum seekers forced to stay there.
Updated 15 February 2021: Guardian: Napier barracks not suitable for accommodation, experts found
Seven-year-old report concluded buildings used to house asylum seekers were not for long-term use
A former army barracks used to house asylum seekers did not “meet acceptable standards of accommodation” when it was surveyed by planning and environmental experts seven years ago, it has emerged.
A report on Napier barracks, near Folkestone, Kent, filed by CgMs Consulting, now part of the RPS Group, concluded that “the buildings were never intended for long-term use” and converting the housing blocks on the site was an “unsuitable approach”.
The report was submitted to Folkestone and Hythe district council in 2014 as part of a planning application by the housebuilder Taylor Wimpey, which in September 2020 was granted planning permission to demolish Napier barracks and build 355 houses.
Updated 11 February 2021: Church leaders call for Government to stop housing asylum seekers in barracks
Church leaders from across different denominations have written an an open-letter to the Home Secretary about asylum seekers housing.
The Bishop of Durham was joined by several Anglican bishops and Christian leaders from across the country.
Full text below.
Dear Secretary of State,
We have watched with growing concern events unfold at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent and are extremely concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers housed across Ministry of Defence sites.
As you know, in the absence of safe and legal routes to apply for refugee status outside the UK, many have no choice but to make a dangerous and perilous journey to seek safety from conflict, persecution, and violence. After such a traumatic journey, having had to often spend time behind wire fences in refugee camps, it is simply insensitive to house people in such environments. In a global pandemic it is nothing short of irresponsible and risks the lives of residents and staff alike. Even as a temporary measure, ex-military barracks are unfit for purpose and entirely inappropriate. Requiring members from different households to use and live in shared facilities greatly increases the risk of infection and residents cannot be held responsible for virus transmission rates when social distancing is not possible.
We are therefore calling for an immediate end to the use of military barracks as accommodation for those seeking sanctuary in the UK. It is not a fair or justified response to your legal duty to house asylum seekers who would otherwise become destitute. We understand it is the Government’s intention to move all individuals in contingency accommodation into suitable dispersed accommodation as soon as reasonably practical. Can you therefore confirm that the Home Office will not expand the use of military barracks for contingency accommodation and whether the Government will set out a timeline for their closure.
We do appreciate the unprecedented pressures the Government is facing to provide accommodation to those who are awaiting a determination of their status, following the welcome decision not to evict people from asylum accommodation through a period of the pandemic. However, a long term sustainable action plan has to be put in place to secure suitable, dignified dispersal accommodation. Steps to speed up accurate processing of asylum applications will also reduce pressure on the system.
Our shared faith as signatories to this letter, leads us to view all human beings as equal and deserving of respect, dignity and welcome. We have witnessed at first hand, the generous welcome provided by civic and faith groups to those seeking protection. When asylum seekers are housed within communities, it allows for better integration and access to support services. Asylum seekers are often no longer seen as “other” but as neighbours and friends. It is in this environment that asylum seekers physical and mental wellbeing can be protected, and they are also able to better engage with their asylum application.
We ask that the Government continue to work constructively with local authorities, devolved administrations and support organisations to secure sufficient and appropriate dispersal accommodation in local communities and to end the use of barracks as a matter of urgency. We look forward to hearing your response to the issues raised.
The Bishop of Durham, The Rt Revd Paul Butler
Cardinal Vincent Nichols Archbishop of Westminster and President of Churches Together in England
Rt Revd Paul McAleenan Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
The Bishop of London, The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London
Hugh Osgood Free Churches President of Churches Together in England
Revd Dr Paul Goodliff BA MTh General Secretary, Churches Together in England
The Bishop of Loughborough, The Rt Revd Dr Gulnar (Guli) Francis-Dehqani BA MA PhD
The Bishop Rt of Dover and the Bishop in Canterbury, The Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin
The Bishop of Bradwell, The Rt Revd Dr John Perumbalath Chair of Churches Refugee Network in Britain and Ireland
The Bishop of Bristol, The Rt Revd Vivienne Faull
The Bishop of Reading, The Rt Revd Olivia Graham
The Bishop of Croydon, The Rt Revd Jonathan Clark
The Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Revd Steven Croft
The Bishop of Worcester, The Rt Revd Dr John Inge
The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun
The Bishop of Gloucester, The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek
The Bishop of Leeds, The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines Pastor Agu Irukwu, Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Pastor Jesus House President of Churches Together in England
Most Revd Father Oluwole A Abiola, OBE President, Council of African and Caribbean Churches UK
The Revd Clare Downing Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church
The Revd Richard Teal President of the Methodist Conference 2020/2021
Mrs Carolyn Lawrence Vice-President of the Methodist Conference 2020/2021
Dorothy Kendrick President, Independent Methodist Connexion of Churches Commissioner Anthony Cotterill Territorial Leader for The Salvation Army in the UK and Republic of Ireland
Revd Judith Morris General Secretary, Baptist Union of Wales
Revd Meirion Morris General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Wales
Revd Dan Yarnell The Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland
Roberta Hoey Chair of the Provincial Board for the Moravian Church in Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Rev Trevor Howard BA(Hons), QTS, MA (Urban Ed), MTh. Executive Vice-Chair of the Board of Churches in Communities International
Mr David Lockett Chair of Trustees, on behalf of the Trustees of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.
Rev Luke Larner Chaplain of the Red Letter Christians UK network
Domenica Pecoraro Kent Refugee Projects Officer, Diocese of Canterbury
The Revd Gareth Jones Diocesan Refugee Coordinator, Diocese of Chelmsford
Revd Simeon Oladokun Superintendent of Christ Apostolic Church, UK and Regional Secretary of CAC Europe
Updated 10 February 2021: An inspection of contingency asylum accommodation – visits to Penally Camp and Napier Barracks
Inspectors from ICIBI and HMI Prisons are visiting both sites during the week beginning 15 February.Published 10 February 2021From:Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
In line with S.52(2) of the UK Borders Act 2007, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) has sought the assistance of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) with ICIBI’s inspection of contingency asylum accommodation, specifically Penally Camp and Napier Barracks, Folkestone.
HMIP’s involvement will enable ICIBI’s inspection to progress at pace, without having to divert resources from other ‘live’ inspections, and it will also mean that ICIBI can benefit from HMIP’s knowledge and experience of inspecting large institutional settings, particularly during the current pandemic.
Inspectors from ICIBI and HMIP are planning to visit both sites during the week of 15 February.
The inspection visits will comprise:
- interviews with accommodation service provider staff and any other persons providing onsite services to the residents
- interviews with residents
- a review of relevant locally-held documentary evidence (e.g. local rules, information, risk assessments, complaints logs, etc.)
- an assessment of the premises and onsite facilities
- separate short surveys of staff and residents (distributed in advance of the visits).
Following the site visits, HMIP will produce a written report of its findings which will be appended to ICIBI’s inspection report for publication by the Home Secretary in due course. As with all ICIBI inspections, the Independent Chief Inspector will raise any matters requiring urgent attention with the Home Office, or directly with ministers, in advance of submitting his full inspection report.
The ‘call for evidence’ for this inspection closes on Friday 19 February 2021.
Updated 9 February 2021: HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Asylum accommodation inspection
In the week beginning 15 February 2021, HMI Prisons inspectors will visit Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent and Penally Camp in Pembrokeshire. These sites are currently being used as asylum accommodation.
HMI Prisons is assisting the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), who is currently conducting an inspection of contingency asylum accommodation. A statement outlining key findings from the visits will be published on our website in the weeks following the inspection. HMI Prisons will send a full report to the ICIBI, to be appended to his full report when it is published.
David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is not tasked to inspect detention centres, but the Prison Inspector is – so working together, they will be more effective in finding out what has been happening.
Updated 9 February 2021: Guardian: Home Office drops plan to house asylum seekers in ‘prison-style’ camp
Temporary accommodation at Yarl’s Wood removal centre will not be used after criticism:
The Home Office has abandoned controversial plans to house nearly 200 asylum seekers in what campaigners have described as a “prison-style” camp on the site of an immigration removal centre.
Government officials originally planned to move the asylum seekers into portable buildings adjacent to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire at the end of last year. Tents were to be erected for preparing and serving food. But in a significant U-turn, the Home Office is no longer proceeding with the plans.
[See report from the Guardian on 16 January 2021 that a ‘letter before action’ was sent]
In complete contrast to the media reports about conditions in Napier camp. This is a shameless displacement of any responsibility for their discarding of the duty of care by forcing people into a situation where Covid-19 could run riot, and where a build-up of tensions within the camp cannot be surprising in the circumstances described elsewhere in this post. In contrast, the Home Office ignored advice from Public Health England that housing asylum seekers in dormitories in army barracks was inappropriate in a pandemic, months before an outbreak of 120 Covid cases. https://qarn.org.uk/home-office-ignored-covid-advice-not-to-put-asylum-seekers-in-barracks:
Updated 8 February 2021: Independent: Immigration minister denies asylum barracks ‘public health disaster’ despite over 100 Covid cases at site
Chris Philp claims military camps housing refugees ‘appropriate and suitable’ and ‘good value for money’
Challenged by opposition MPs about the conditions in Napier Barracks, a disused Ministry of Defence (MoD) site in Folkestone, Kent which was repurposed to house hundreds of asylum seekers in September, Chris Philp claimed the facility was “appropriate and suitable”. Read more: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/asylum-seekers-barracks-coronavirus-home-office-b1799263.html
Updated 5 February 2021: Guardian: Another asylum seeker relocated from Napier barracks after court order
‘Abject failure’ to protect men from Covid-19 at Kent site truly shocking, say lawyers
An asylum seeker and victim of torture held in a controversial army barracks has been urgently rehoused following a high court ruling, lawyers have said.
In the second such move this week, a high court judge ordered the relocation of the man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, from Napier barracks near Folkestone, Kent, into hotel accommodation.
The privately run barracks has been used to accommodate about 400 asylum seekers since September and last month experienced a significant Covid-19 outbreak, affecting at least a quarter of the men inside.
The legal team representing the rehoused claimant argued in written submissions to the court that he had been forced to sleep in the “overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsuitable” former army barracks and had been subjected to “prison-like conditions”.
4 February 2021: Gov.Wales: CABINET STATEMENT: Written Statement: Penally asylum accommodation February update by Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip
On 18 November, the Senedd debated and agreed a motion that the Home Office’s decision to accommodate asylum seekers at the Penally army camp should be reconsidered because it is an unsuitable place without access to appropriate support networks. I wrote to the Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, Chris Philp MP, on 25 November to alert him to our debate and repeat our call for the UK Government to close the Penally camp and move asylum seekers to alternative accommodation which can properly cater for their needs, respect their dignity, and help them to progress their asylum applications.
I had the opportunity to discuss this matter with the UK Government Minister on 1 December but he did not accept my view that the use of the camp for this purpose is inhumane.
Nevertheless, I continue to raise significant concerns about the safety and appropriateness of the camp as asylum accommodation. We have seen footage, photographs and safety reports from within the camp which support our concerns. We believe the Penally site has inherent risks due to the operational model being implemented.
Updated 3 February 2021: Guardian: Asylum seeker cannot remain at Kent army barracks, court says
High court ruling opens door for more people to be transferred out of ‘wholly unsuitable’ Napier barracks
“A former military chief, Nicholas Mercer, now a rector and previously the army’s top legal officer, has condemned the use of military barracks to accommodate asylum seekers.
“As the home secretary well knows, refugees are entitled to special protection under international law,” said Mercer. “It is wholly inappropriate therefore to house them in disused army barracks which have been described by the Red Cross as “unsafe and unsanitary” and which violate the UN convention on refugees. Refuge is about seeking sanctuary in a place of safety but this treatment is nothing more than naked hostility to very vulnerable people.” “
Refugees are still being housed at a disused army barracks near Tenby, despite repeated complaints that the accommodation is not suitable.
The Home Office has stated its intention to move people out of the Penally barracks. But residents say it’s not happening fast enough. Residents told The Canary that only 11 people have been moved out of the barracks, and 5 more will leave later this week since the Home Office announcement in January, and that around 100 people remain there in appalling conditions.
Saif (not his real name), who has been kept at Penally since September 2020, said:
The way they are moving people is too slow, last week they moved around 5 people. Its not enough, its really a small number.
I have been here since the end of September, and that’s too long.
The situation is getting worse. To live here during the winter is not easy because it’s an old military camp. The conditions are not correct to keep people here in winter. Its really really bad.
Updated 2 February 2021: Guardian: Former immigration minister criticises use of barracks to house asylum seekers
The Conservative former immigration minister Caroline Nokes has accused the Home Office of using barracks accommodation for asylum seekers to make the country appear to them “as difficult and inhospitable as possible”.
She said asylum seekers should not be “segregated into a ghetto” in barracks accommodation, but instead placed in supported accommodation where they have access to a range of facilities.
Nokes is among a group of backbench Conservative MPs with barracks in their constituencies who have raised concerns about their use to house asylum seekers. Others include Damian Collins, whose Folkestone and Hythe constituency includes Napier barracks, and Richard Fuller, the MP for North East Bedfordshire, where there is a new barracks-style development close to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.
Updated 31 January 2021: Independent: Home Office put refugees in barracks after fears better housing would ‘undermine confidence’ in system
Exclusive: Internal documents reveal ministers justified placing hundreds of asylum seekers in military camps because more ‘generous’ accommodation would damage public perception of asylum system
Concerns have been mounting about conditions in two Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites – known as Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, Kent, and Penally Barracks, in Pembrokeshire – since they were were repurposed for housing asylum seekers last September. Campaigners, lawyers and humanitarian groups have reported poor access to healthcare and legal advice, as well as concerns over coronavirus safety.
The barracks burst into flames on Friday and asylum seekers say they have suffered electricity and hot water outages since the fire, with Kent Police saying five men have been arrested after a disturbance at the camp.
It has now emerged that the Home Office, in its equality impact assessment of the plans to use MoD sites to house asylum seekers, justified the move by stating that housing these individuals in more “generous” accommodation would “undermine public confidence in the asylum system”.
Critics say the document shows ministers “pandering to prejudice” and jeopardising health for “political ends”.
26 January 2021: Independent: Home Office urged to publish review into ‘desperate’ asylum camps amid concerns about Covid outbreak
Ministers come under pressure as hundreds remain in camp where coronavirus outbreak has taken hold, with one asylum seeker saying he is sleeping outdoors to protect himself
Updated 23 January 2021: Guardian: UK asylum seekers told claims at risk if they ‘misbehave’
Call for Home Office to act after private contractors tell people their applications will be jeopardised for speaking out, going on hunger strikes or complaining about food
People held at temporary Home Office refugee camps are being threatened that their asylum claims will be harmed if they “misbehave”, according to testimony from site residents.
A series of statements from asylum seekers inside the camps, anonymised to protect them from possible reprisals, allege they have been told by staff employed by private contractors that their asylum application will be jeopardised for speaking out about conditions or going on hunger strike.
One alleged he was told that if he complained about the food his name would be added to a “blacklist” that contractors shared with the Home Office and would “affect his claim”.
Others said they were told their asylum claim would be impaired if they did not return to their accommodation – a disused military training camp – by 10pm.
Asylum is a human right backed by the UN Refugee Convention and assessed in the UK using agreed screening processes and Home Office immigration caseworkers.
Updated 18 January 2021: How will people in the asylum system, and those who are undocumented, access track and trace, testing, or the vaccine?
Police officers enforce move at Napier barracks after warnings from humanitarian organisations. [Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/19/kent-refugee-napier-barracks-locked-down-covid]
16 January 2021: Guardian: Legal action launched against plan to house asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood
Home Office criticised for plans to accommodate 200 people seeking asylum at ‘prison-style’ camp.
Pressure is mounting on the Home Office over its plans to house nearly 200 asylum seekers in what campaigners have described as a “prison-style” camp on the site of an immigration jail.
The construction of prefab-style accommodation at the privately run Yarl’s Wood centre in Bedfordshire follow a series of damning reports on conditions at two former army barracks sites in Kent and Pembrokeshire being used to hold up to 600 asylum-seeking men.
Campaigners have started legal action against the expansion of Yarl’s Wood, which is set to house its first asylum seekers imminently, while councillors in Bedford have spoken out against the new development.
The Home Office has invoked emergency powers under town and country planning legislation to speedily construct the cabin-style accommodation without seeking planning permission through conventional channels. Images of the new site have been leaked to the Guardian. Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jan/16/legal-action-launched-against-plan-to-house-asylum-seekers-at-yarls-wood
15 January 2021: BBC: Napier arracks: MP wants asylum seeker accommodation shut
An MP has called for an emergency asylum seeker accommodation centre in his constituency to be shut.
The first of several hundred people seeking asylum arrived at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, in September.
People being housed there recently staged protests at “unbearable” conditions at the ex-military base.
Now local MP Damian Collins has called for its closure. The Home Office has been approached for comment.
Mr Collins said he had raised concerns about the suitability of using the barracks to accommodate so many people at the start of the process.
“The best solution would be for the asylum seekers to have their claims processed and for this facility to be closed down,” he said.
In protest, residents have staged a sleep out and hunger strikes, and police were called on Tuesday when about 100 people walked out for about an hour.
The campaign group Care4Calais says three people are still refusing to sleep inside.
The group’s founder Clare Moseley said: “The asylum seekers at Napier already face cramped, stressful, distressing conditions, and now they are terrified of catching Covid as well.”
14 January 2021 BBC: Covid: Asylum seeker camp conditions prompt inspection calls
Asylum seekers housed in a military training camp have claimed the “very bad” conditions are making them feel increasingly desperate.
The Home Office decided to house up to 250 asylum seekers at the site in Penally, Pembrokeshire, from September.
But some housed at the camp claim the conditions are unsafe and putting them at risk of coronavirus.
Plaid Cymru has called for an urgent inspection, but the Home Office said it was safe and “Covid-compliant”.
On Thursday afternoon, the independent chief inspector for borders and immigration David Bolt said he hoped an inspection can begin “within a few weeks” and was awaiting further details he requested from the Home Office.
Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-55650508
14 January 2021: Guardian: Asylum seeker housing conditions under scrutiny at third ex-military site
Allegations of poor conditions, poor food quality and mental health crises at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk.
A third former military site being used as temporary housing for asylum seekers is facing allegations of poor conditions, poor food quality and mental health crises, it has emerged.
The Home Office has been housing asylum seekers in a former officers’ mess at RAF Coltishall, north of Norwich, since April last year. The Norfolk site has not received as much scrutiny as two similar facilities, Napier Barracks in Kent and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire, which have been dogged by allegations of cover-ups, poor access to healthcare and legal advice, and crowded conditions.
But it has emerged that there have been similar concerns over the set-up at RAF Coltishall, with people familiar with the site claiming there have been issues with lack of information, food quality, access to medical care including dentistry, as well as suicide attempts and hunger strikes. Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jan/14/asylum-seeker-housing-conditions-under-scrutiny-third-uk-military-site-raf-coltishall-norfolk-
14 January 2021 Morning Star: Asylum-seekers march into Tenby demanding their human rights
ASYLUM-SEEKERS at an army barracks in Wales marched into the local town on Wednesday night with banners reading: “Close the camp” and “We want normal life, no prison.”
Around 250 men have been held in Penally Camp since September, when the Home Office decided to use the disused army base as temporary accommodation for asylum-seekers.
Residents claim conditions at the site are not safe, and have repeatedly raised concerns about a lack of access to medical care and legal support.
Today a group of 40 men from the camp took to the streets to voice their frustration and demand it be shut down.
Walking from the camp to the nearby town of Tenby, protesters, chanting: “We are civilians,” held pieces of carboard asking: “Where are [our] human rights?”
14 January 2021: Northern Echo: Plans revealed to build prison-style immigration camp on site of former Hassockfield Detention Centre
GOVERNMENT plans to scrap a residential development in favour of creating an immigration detention centre on the site of a notorious facility have been described as “madness”.
Durham county councillors are demanding answers after Ministry of Justice plans emerged, proposing to turn the former Hassockfield Detention Centre, in Medomsley, into a Category 3-style prison to detain around 80 people who have had applications for UK residency denied.
The council had approved a planning application from Homes England for 127 new homes on the site, over a year ago. [Read more here: https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/19009076.plans-immigration-detention-centre-notorious-medomsley-site/ ]
8 December 2020: Barton Stacey asylum seeker cabin site ‘would be open prison’
Plans to accommodate up to 500 asylum seekers in cabins near a village have been condemned by both the local MP and council leader.
Test Valley Borough Council leader Phil North said the “substandard” homes near Barton Stacey, Hampshire, would be like an “open prison”.
Fellow Conservative Caroline Nokes MP said the site would infringe rules on development.
15 December 2020: Guidance COVID-19: guidance for providers of accommodation for asylum seekers: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-providers-of-accommodation-for-asylum-seekers/covid-19-guidance-for-providers-of-accommodation-for-asylum-seekers
30 November 2021: ECRE:
Country Report: Types of accommodationLast updated: 30/11/20
Refugee CouncilVisit Website
Initial accommodation centres
Reception centres, called initial accommodation, each accommodate around 200 people – fewer in Glasgow and Northern Ireland. These centres are the usual first accommodation for any asylum seeker who asks for support and is not immediately detained, apart from unaccompanied children. If a place cannot be found on the first night after claim, asylum seekers may be accommodated in an interim hostel in Croydon while accommodation is found, or in hotels in any region where the initial accommodation is full. Accommodation in the initial accommodation centres is usually full board with no cash provided.
The short-term use of bed and breakfast accommodation has tended to rise in times of an increase in applications, although in its response to the Home Affairs Select Committee the government stated that the accommodation providers had taken measures to lessen the need for this. The drawback is that people accommodated in a hotel, even if only for one or two nights, have limited or no access to many of the reception-related rights granted to asylum seekers, with reported cases of persons having only restricted access to accommodation. The consequence of such temporary ‘emergency’ accommodation is that it additionally delays their access to the support system and other welfare services to which they are entitled, as it may take a couple of days before they access advice and complete an application for asylum support.
Asylum seekers should not stay in initial accommodation for any longer than 19 days, but there can be dispersal backlogs and it is common to find asylum seekers stuck in initial accommodation for over 3 weeks due to a lack of dispersal accommodation. The consequences of such backlogs are varied, but the January 2017 accommodation report from the Home Affairs Select Committee highlighted its inadequacy for women, particularly pregnant women and new mothers. The lack of appropriately nutritious food was one example of this inadequacy. The report also commented on the lack of women only spaces and the government responded that it will work with providers to provide these where it may be possible. Similar findings were reported in an inspection of asylum support accommodation by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in 2018. A UK charity has written a guide to the 2019 contracts and has details about all types of accommodation and services covered.
This is a briefing given for MPs in November 2020: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8990/
A guide for people in the asylum system: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/821324/Pack_A_-English-_Web.pdf
3 July: Factsheet – Asylum Accommodation, Applications and Interviews https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/07/03/factsheet-asylum-accommodation-and-applications/
29 June 2020: TFN: Refugee charities slam hotel policy for asylum seekers
Charities previously warned about moving vulnerable asylum seekers
Refugee charities have hit out at the lack of proper procedures when moving asylum seekers into temporary accommodation.
It comes after a Sudanese man attacked a number of people with a knife at a hotel in Glasgow on Friday injusring six before he was shot dead by police marksmen.
Organisations had been warning about the situation concerning temporary accommodation up to the day before the attack, it has been revealed.
Since lockdown was imposed many, who formerly lived in flats in the city, were moved into hotels closed because of the covid-19 restrictions.
12 May 2020: TFN: 400 asylum seekers forced into shared accommodation despite lockdown
Charity demands answers from Home Office and Mears Group after death of Syrian refugee.
Campaigners are demanding answers after the death of a Syrian asylum seeker in a Scottish hotel.
Adnan Olbeh, who was 30, was found dead in his room at the 81-room McLays Guest House in Glasgow on Tuesday 5 May.
Mr Olbeh was one of around 400 refugees and asylum seekers who were relocated into vacant hotels from self-contained flats around the city by housing and social care provider Mears Group in the early weeks of the coronavirus lockdown.
Mears is said to have given asylum seekers just minutes notice of the move before taking them in groups of four or five to the hotels in vans, ignoring rules around social distancing.
Those in the hotels have told charities they now fear for their safety, with many staying in their rooms to avoid coming into close contact with others.
Meanwhile, their regular weekly allowance of £35.50 has been cut to zero, meaning they can no longer buy sanitary products, top up phones for essential calls, or use public transport to travel to food banks.
Inspectors examined resources, policies, processes and performance in respect of the provision, by the Home Office, of asylum accommodation.
The provision of asylum accommodation, in line with the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, was examined by the National Audit Office in 2014 and by the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) in 2017. While I did not set out to re-examine every finding or recommendation made by the NAO or HAC, I took note of the Home Office’s responses to the latter in particular and looked to see what actions had been completed and what improvements had been made.
For several reasons, not least the difficulty of extracting evidence from the Home Office, this inspection proved more challenging than most. My report is likely to please no-one. It was clear from the Home Office’s response to the draft report that this topic touched a nerve. It considered my criticisms unfair and believed its efforts had not been fully recognised.
Meanwhile, I suspect that the many non-government organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders engaged with asylum accommodation, and those living in it, will feel that the report has not gone far enough in challenging the standards of accommodation and support provided.
Discussions with the Home Office, the commercial providers, NGOs and asylum seekers about particular properties showed just how difficult it was to agree on what constituted “an acceptable standard” of accommodation, and how equally difficult it was for the parties to remain objective and to trust each other’s intentions and actions.
The overriding impression from this inspection was of many individuals – from the Home Office, the Providers, NGOs and voluntary groups, statutory services and local authorities – up and down the UK, working hard to do their best for those in asylum accommodation, but often with quite different perspectives and priorities.
The system will always rely on collaboration, but it is the Home Office that holds most of the keys – to easing demand on asylum accommodation through more efficient management of asylum claims; to standardising data capture and improving information flows; to ensuring policies and practices support and protect the most vulnerable; to driving a UK-wide dispersal strategy for asylum seekers and refugees that engages more local authorities.
For all its efforts, this inspection found the Home Office too accepting of the limitations of the current COMPASS contracts and how things are, and too optimistic that the work it has in hand and the new contracts would bring about improvements.
In reality, there is much more that it can and should be doing now, before September 2019 when the new contracts start. Otherwise, the same underlying issues with asylum accommodation are likely to persist, whatever benefits the new contracts may deliver.
I have made 9 recommendations, some of them time-sensitive. My report was sent to the Home Secretary on 9 July 2018. While it has accepted all of my recommendations, the Home Office’s formal response (published with this report) looks to underplay the evidence of poor accommodation standards. This is unhelpful when it comes to building trust.
- An inspection of the Home Office’s management of asylum accommodation provision
- The Home Office response to the asylum accommodation inspection
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration