Home Office ignored Covid advice not to put asylum seekers in barracks

Updated 26 January 2022: Letter through JCWI: We also want to be safe’ – Sign our open letter

Faced with COVID, the Government should have done everything in its power to ensure everyone had support. Everyone needs a way to earn a living, access to the public safety net if they need it, safe accommodation, and access to vaccines and the NHS.

But Hostile Environment policies cut undocumented migrants off from these basic rights. Because they don’t have the right piece of paper in their passport, people without status have been left destitute, homeless, and afraid or unable to get help during the pandemic.

We need accountability, and change. The public inquiry into the Government handling of COVID is getting underway now. We are calling on the Chair to make sure the experiences of all migrants, including those without status, are part of her investigation.

Dear Lady Hallett,

Congratulations on your appointment to chair the public inquiry into COVID-19. We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, write to encourage the inquiry panel to include migration status and laws affecting migrants as a key factor in the inquiry’s investigation.

When the COVID pandemic hit the UK in March 2020, all our lives changed. But as our communities pulled together, it quickly became clear that not everyone had equal access to the lifelines they needed to weather the crisis.

The COVID pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities, with black and brown communities facing higher rates of infection and hospitalisation. Migrants within this cohort, particularly those with insecure immigration status, existed and still exist on the sharpest end of the COVID crisis.

There is already plentiful evidence showing the huge disparity in COVID outcomes between black and minority ethnic people and their white counterparts. People from a Bangladeshi background, for example, have twice the risk of death from COVID as white people, according to Public Health England.

This disparity must be investigated, and it is our belief that an assessment of the impact of current immigration policy and law must make up part of this investigation.

Read more, and sign online: https://www.jcwi.org.uk/migrants-covid-inquiry

16 February 2021 Guardian: Public Health England warned against using Napier facility before outbreak of coronavirus, court hears

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.

In a high court hearing on Tuesday – brought by six asylum seekers who claim that conditions at the barracks are inhumane – the Home Office conceded that it was arguable that the use of Napier barracks to house the group was unlawful and in breach of human rights.

Counsel for the Home Office admitted to failings and confirmed that, following the launching of several legal actions, sweeping changes to Napier barracks in Folkestone, which has been used to accommodate hundreds of asylum seekers, have been made.

Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/feb/16/home-office-were-advised-not-to-house-asylum-seekers-in-napier-barracks


Sue Willman, solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn, the firm representing four of the Claimants said:

“The Home Secretary has today conceded that the arguments we made on behalf of asylum seekers held in Napier Barracks were arguable and that the case should go ahead to a full trial. This is very welcome news. Our clients were subjected to demeaning conditions in Napier Barracks for over four months before the Home Office was ordered by the Court to move them to alternative adequate accommodation. It is due to the determined work of NGOs and campaigners including Care4Calais, Humans For Rights Network, Kent Refugee Action Network, Samphire Project and the Helen Bamber Foundation that this has been brought this to light. Refugees arriving in the UK, often after experiencing torture and trafficking, have the right to be provided with basic humane accommodation. Disused military barracks at Napier and Penally are far from that and now need to be closed.”

A final hearing will take place in the week commencing 12 April 2021.

Read the report here: https://dpglaw.co.uk/home-secretary-concedes-that-it-is-arguable-that-napier-barracks-are-inadequate-and-in-breach-of-human-rights-high-court-grants-permission-to-proceed/

Set that against this letter sent out on 9 February 2021 to local residents by Home Office and Folkestone & Hythe District Council: