Fires don't happen
in a vacuum


What is going on
in the barracks housing
people seeking
asylum?

 

Quick-fire response

During the afternoon of Friday 29 January 2021, police and several fire engines responded to reports of a fire at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent. One of the buildings of the site, which is being used to house people seeking asylum in the UK, was on fire. Thankfully, there were no reported injuries.

The same week, a severe covid-19 outbreak had been reported in the barracks, with one in four residents testing positive for the coronavirus.

During the first wave of the covid-19 pandemic, the Home Office took almost three months to make the decision to add just 26p-per-day to Asylum Support payments.

In responding to reports of the fire, Home Secretary Priti Patel needed less than four hours to be satisfied with her understanding of the facts and release the following statement…

This statement displays far more concern at the outbreak of this fire than was shown for the outbreak of covid-19 among the people crammed into these living conditions, which Priti Patel’s Immigration Minister had the audacity to blame on its victims…

“These individuals could face enforcement action and are not only risking their own health but the health of staff looking after them and the communities who are accommodating them.”

Chris PhilpImmigration Minister

What should we make of Home Office ministers’ accusations in these two statements?

First of all, we need to understand how the situation in which more than 600 people seeking asylum were housed in disused barracks arose.

Fires don’t happen in a vacuum.

#CloseTheBarracks: Timeline

March
2020

Long term extreme mismanagement causes a shortage of asylum accommodation, resulting in huge amounts of hardship. The accommodation that did exist was already in disrepair.

March
2020

Long term extreme mismanagement causes a shortage of asylum accommodation, resulting in huge amounts of hardship. The accommodation that did exist was already in disrepair.

April
2020

Pandemic-induced lockdowns mean housing providers pause ‘non-urgent’ repairs, further dilapidating the existing housing stock and reducing the number of habitable properties.

April
2020

Pandemic-induced lockdowns mean housing providers pause ‘non-urgent’ repairs, further dilapidating the existing housing stock and reducing the number of habitable properties.

August
2020

The Home Office describes the use of a hotel to accommodate people seeking asylum in Priti Patel’s constituency of Witham as an ‘operational failure’ and pledges to relocate them elsewhere.

August
2020

The Home Office describes the use of a hotel to accommodate people seeking asylum in Priti Patel’s constituency of Witham as an ‘operational failure’ and pledges to relocate them elsewhere.

September
2020

400 people seeking asylum arrive at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent. The barracks have been abandoned for more than five years.

September
2020

400 people seeking asylum arrive at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent. The barracks have been abandoned for more than five years.

"I have suffered here more than I have ever suffered on earth."

Person seeking asylumHoused in barracks

October
2020

Over the course of one month, ambulances are called to Napier Barracks 19 times.

Experts identify that the lack of mental health support in barracks is leaving underlying trauma-related problems unaddressed, and residents’ mental health is subsequently worsening.

October
2020

Over the course of one month, ambulances are called to Napier Barracks 19 times.

Experts identify that the lack of mental health support in barracks is leaving underlying trauma-related problems unaddressed, and residents’ mental health is subsequently worsening.

"Seeing people trying to take their own lives. Police and ambulances coming all the time is reminding me of the war. Seeing the blood, and the difficulties that we are facing reminds me of the treatment and war that I experienced, I don't feel safe, I don't feel mentally stable."

Person seeking asylumHoused in barracks

November
2020

One man seeking asylum is hospitalised after an attempt to take his own life.

Reports of overcrowding and a lack of covid safety in barracks are constant. At Napier, 16 blocks house 400 people seeking asylum.

In several of these blocks, 28 people share two toilets and two showers, eat in a communal space and sleep at close quarters.

Around 350 people housed at Napier go on hunger strike at the barracks to protest the covid-19 risk, poor hygiene and lack of information on their asylum claims.

A report by the local health board in Wales describes the barracks at Penally as ‘unsuitable’ for ‘men who may have experienced trauma, great hardship and who have been separated from their families.’

November
2020

One man seeking asylum is hospitalised after an attempt to take his own life.

Reports of overcrowding and a lack of covid safety in barracks are constant. At Napier, 16 blocks house 400 people seeking asylum.

In several of these blocks, 28 people share two toilets and two showers, eat in a communal space and sleep at close quarters.

Around 350 people housed at Napier go on hunger strike at the barracks to protest the covid-19 risk, poor hygiene and lack of information on their asylum claims.

A report by the local health board in Wales describes the barracks at Penally as ‘unsuitable’ for ‘men who may have experienced trauma, great hardship and who have been separated from their families.’

December
2020

Medical staff send an open letter to Priti Patel with a damning assessment of the unsuitability of housing people seeking asylum and victims of modern slavery in military barracks.

By this point in 2020, 29 people seeking asylum have died in Home Office accommodation, five times as many as had lost their lives in small boat Channel crossings during the same period.

Charities, including Refugee Action, launch a campaign to #CloseTheBarracks and house people seeking asylum safely.

December
2020

Medical staff send an open letter to Priti Patel with a damning assessment of the unsuitability of housing people seeking asylum and victims of modern slavery in military barracks.

By this point in 2020, 29 people seeking asylum have died in Home Office accommodation, five times as many as had lost their lives in small boat Channel crossings during the same period.

Charities, including Refugee Action, launch a campaign to #CloseTheBarracks and house people seeking asylum safely.

Is it a jail or is it a prison, or is it a detention centre?

The situation is no longer tolerable, and the mind is stricken with a vibration

We do not know, they told us it was a shelter and residence for us

They said it to us, with confidence and pride

But nothing suggests that

We started to lose the sense of security, we even lost confidence in ourselves

Scary barriers and thoughts come from afar

There is no outlet for us but a yard surrounded by iron walls

The days pass as before, nothing new, nothing new.

Poet from YemenHoused in barracks

January
2021

More than 100 people housed in Napier Barracks are reported to have tested positive for coronavirus. Some residents are sleeping outdoors in freezing temperatures through fear of catching the virus inside the accommodation.

200 people seeking asylum in Napier and Penally barracks sign an open letter to Priti Patel and Chris Philp describing the impossibility of observing coronavirus guidelines among other inhumane conditions: ‘we all share one space. We breathe in one room and there is no way we can practise social distancing.’

Responding to a question in Parliament regarding the coronavirus outbreak at Napier, Priti Patel says that the accommodation is of a ‘very strong standard’ and that coronavirus precautions are ‘in line with PHE [Public Health England] guidance.’

After the fire at Napier Barracks on 29 January, people seeking asylum living in the barracks say they were left without electricity, heating and drinking water. Volunteers say they were prevented from providing donations, such as food and clothing.

A British Red Cross report finds that, at Penally barracks, some food was served raw leading to food poisoning.

January
2021

More than 100 people housed in Napier Barracks are reported to have tested positive for coronavirus. Some residents are sleeping outdoors in freezing temperatures through fear of catching the virus inside the accommodation.

200 people seeking asylum in Napier and Penally barracks sign an open letter to Priti Patel and Chris Philp describing the impossibility of observing coronavirus guidelines among other inhumane conditions: ‘we all share one space. We breathe in one room and there is no way we can practise social distancing.’

Responding to a question in Parliament regarding the coronavirus outbreak at Napier, Priti Patel says that the accommodation is of a ‘very strong standard’ and that coronavirus precautions are ‘in line with PHE [Public Health England] guidance.’

After the fire at Napier Barracks on 29 January, people seeking asylum living in the barracks say they were left without electricity, heating and drinking water. Volunteers say they were prevented from providing donations, such as food and clothing.

A British Red Cross report finds that, at Penally barracks, some food was served raw leading to food poisoning.

February
2021

It is disclosed that Clearsprings Ready Homes, the company running Napier Barracks, stands to earn up to £1 billion over the course of its 10-year contract with the government.

February
2021

It is disclosed that Clearsprings Ready Homes, the company running Napier Barracks, stands to earn up to £1 billion over the course of its 10-year contract with the government.

"It is depressing here. You are in a prison. If you request something that you believe is your right, they threaten you and say we will tell the Home Office, and it will affect your claim."

Person seeking asylumHoused in barracks

Were the barracks fit for purpose? It depends what purpose they were intended to serve. Giving people seeking asylum somewhere safe and decent to live?

Or something else?

Accommodating Prejudice

Home Office ministers presented the use of barracks as an unavoidable measure in an unprecedented year. But internal documents show that while they said their hands were forced, they were also grasping for political gain.

Below is an extract from a Home Office document made public by a Freedom of Information request.

Home Office Equality Impact Assessment

…the proposal results in placing asylum seekers in areas of the country not previously used to house asylum seekers and there may be impacts on community relations that will  need to be carefully managed in partnership with the police, local authorities and others.

However, similar issues have arisen recently in respect to the use of hotels, which may well be perceived by the general public as a more generous accommodation option than former MoD barracks. The proposal is therefore consistent with the general objective of tackling prejudice and promoting understanding between people with different characteristics…

This document shows that the Home Office didn’t just consider whether barracks were fit for the purpose of safely housing vulnerable and traumatised poeple. They chose barracks partly because they were fit for the purpose of parading people seeking asylum’s discomfort publicly.

Here, hidden in the bureaucratic language of government departments, is a shocking idea: when we accommodate people fleeing war and persecution we should also accommodate supposed public prejudice against them.

The dishonest and discredited notion that people seeking asylum are treated too generously is predominantly spread by the far right. Like fires, public opinion doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If government departments make space for these views, the far right will gladly fill it.

Far from protecting the interests of the general public, the public was put at risk by housing people in barracks that are not equipped to halt the spread of covid-19. Allowing the transmission of coronavirus anywhere in the UK is a threat to us all.

A statement of intent

Let’s return to, and take a closer look at, the Home Secretary’s statement a few hours after the fire at Napier Barracks.

“Offensive to the taxpayers of this country.”

Priti PatelHome Secretary

The Home Secretary presents her statement as if it speaks on behalf of the public at large. Many people are more offended that these barracks were ever used than that their inhumane use led to desperate behaviour.

Overseeing the safety of people seeking asylum, who are prevented from being taxpayers by the Home Office’s ban on working, isn’t about what the public thinks. It’s a matter of providing appropriate accommodation and access to support.

“Offensive to the taxpayers of this country.”

Priti PatelHome Secretary

The Home Secretary presents her statement as if it speaks on behalf of the public at large. Many people are more offended that these barracks were ever used than that their inhumane use led to desperate behaviour.

Overseeing the safety of people seeking asylum, who are prevented from being taxpayers by the Home Office’s ban on working, isn’t about what the public thinks. It’s a matter of providing appropriate accommodation and access to support.

“This site has previously accommodated our brave soldiers.”

Priti PatelHome Secretary
Defining any accommodation’s suitability by its previous occupants – who haven’t lived there for years, and never did during a global pandemic – would be laughable if its real world effects weren’t so dangerous.
Whether the barracks were suitable for service personnel in the past or not, their condition and the way these sites are being run make them unsuitable for people seeking asylum now.

“This site has previously accommodated our brave soldiers.”

Priti PatelHome Secretary
Defining any accommodation’s suitability by its previous occupants – who haven’t lived there for years, and never did during a global pandemic – would be laughable if its real world effects weren’t so dangerous.
Whether the barracks were suitable for service personnel in the past or not, their condition and the way these sites are being run make them unsuitable for people seeking asylum now.

"[Conditions are] ...worse than those on the frontline."

SoldierLiving in barracks

The argument that it’s offensive to complain about conditions in barracks when they’re good enough for soldiers is undermined by a recent National Audit Office report finding that thousands of soldiers are living in barracks that aren’t good enough.

The problems cited with basics like heating and hot water relate to current military accommodation. Imagine the conditions after five years of disuse.

"[Conditions are] ...worse than those on the frontline."

SoldierLiving in barracks

The argument that it’s offensive to complain about conditions in barracks when they’re good enough for soldiers is undermined by a recent National Audit Office report finding that thousands of soldiers are living in barracks that aren’t good enough.

The problems cited with basics like heating and hot water relate to current military accommodation. Imagine the conditions after five years of disuse.

“I am fixing our broken asylum system.”

Priti PatelHome Secretary

The use of barracks and all its terrible consequences are a prime example of what is broken about the asylum system.

We have no confidence that anybody who defends their use – let alone tries to spin political gain from it – has what it takes to fix this system.

“I am fixing our broken asylum system.”

Priti PatelHome Secretary

The use of barracks and all its terrible consequences are a prime example of what is broken about the asylum system.

We have no confidence that anybody who defends their use – let alone tries to spin political gain from it – has what it takes to fix this system.

Systemic racism in the asylum housing system

Long before the covid-19 pandemic or the use of abandoned barracks, people and families in the asylum system have been forced to live in dangerously dilapidated housing. The results in terms of people’s health, wellbeing and safety have been catastrophic. What compounds the horror is not knowing when it will end.

One mother we support watched helplessly as the ceiling in her asylum housing collapsed on her two-year-old toddler, splitting her head open. The young girl was hospitalised and needed 20 stitches to fix the wound.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that systemic racism shapes asylum policy. When people of colour are dying disproportionately of covid-19, people seeking asylum – overwhelmingly people of colour – are put in overcrowded and unhygienic accommodation.

The covid-19 outbreak at Napier Barracks is an encapsulation of the terrible outcomes of systemic racism in the asylum housing system.

Systemic racism in the asylum housing system

Long before the covid-19 pandemic or the use of abandoned barracks, people and families in the asylum system have been forced to live in dangerously dilapidated housing. The results in terms of people’s health, wellbeing and safety have been catastrophic. What compounds the horror is not knowing when it will end.

One mother we support watched helplessly as the ceiling in her asylum housing collapsed on her two-year-old toddler, splitting her head open. The young girl was hospitalised and needed 20 stitches to fix the wound.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that systemic racism shapes asylum policy. When people of colour are dying disproportionately of covid-19, people seeking asylum – overwhelmingly people of colour – are put in overcrowded and unhygienic accommodation.

The covid-19 outbreak at Napier Barracks is an encapsulation of the terrible outcomes of systemic racism in the asylum housing system.

A proud history? A shameful present

Politicians including Priti Patel and Chris Philp are fond of saying that the UK has a ‘proud history’ as a safe haven for refugees.

In the year ending September 2020 (the most recent data available), 46% of asylum claims resulted in a grant of asylum or humanitarian protection at initial decision. Even more were accepted on appeal.

Many of the people currently housed in barracks are refugees who have not yet been granted official status recognising this. We think that people deserve safety, respect and dignity whatever their status, but the politicians that do draw a distinction need to understand that what is being done in Napier Barracks is being done to refugees.

The ‘proud history’ they cite has given way to a shameful present.

Watch our video

Do fires happen in a vacuum?

Was what Priti Patel and Chris Philp said accurate or justifiable?

Was accommodation that led to 100 covid-19 cases in a single outbreak ‘safe, suitable and covid-compliant’ as the Home Office claimed?

Should traumatised people be housed in cramped conditions without access to mental health support?

Should anyone talk about a ‘proud history’ of refugee protection while treating people seeking safety this way?

If you agree with us that the answer to all of these questions is NO, join our campaign to close these barracks for good.

Email your MP to ensure people seeking asylum are housed within communities where their health and dignity are respected.

#CLOSETHEBARRACKS

CLICK HERE TO
EMAIL YOUR MP

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