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Breach of human rights in UK’s migrant camps

December 09th, 2020
topic:Refugees and Asylum
by:Federica Tedeschi
located in:United Kingdom
tags:asylum, COVID-19, Dublin III Regulation, migration, pandemic, Raoul Walawalker

‘A man attempted to take his life at Napier Barracks in Folkestone yesterday’, reads a report recently published by AVID, a network of voluntary organisations providing support for people in detention (20 November 2020).

The tragedy happened in a migrant camp in England and AVID has expressed extensive concern, following evidence revealing the inadequate conditions in which asylum seekers, who are already fleeing torture and abuse most of the times, are being housed in two disused army sites in the UK.

Asylum seekers both at Napier Barracks in England and at Penally Barracks in Wales, are currently living in cramped and stressful conditions that do not meet basic human needs.

Furthermore, and in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, immigration lawyers have raised concerns that forcing 15 people to share a room at Napier Barracks breaches the Home Office’s own guidance on social distancing. And local health authorities near Penally have warned of the high risk of a coronavirus outbreak within the camp.

Both AVID and the Welsh government are urging the Home Office to act promptly and facilitate the immediate transfer of everyone held in these military allotments to safe, supported community-based alternatives.

In early November FairPlanet interviewed Raoul Walawalker, an author at ImmiNews*, who writes regularly on UK social affairs asylum and immigration.

FairPlanet: How did it all get started at Penally and Napier camps?

Raoul Walawalker: It started just after the government’s sudden announcement that it was setting up its first ‘migrant camps’ in the UK with no consultation with local authorities, and after seemingly implausible plans to hold asylum seekers in centres offshore at various remote islands or on offshore ferries. Charities were already shocked by these plans. The camp decisions caused immediate tensions in both local community as well as among human rights groups.

Can you share more details on the living conditions at Penally and Napier camps?

Both camps have been described as inadequate for basic needs. Penally camp is to hold around 230 asylum seekers, all males aged between 18 and 35. While such a size is tiny compared to the size of refugee camps internationally, which can average at around 11,000 people, the disused facility itself is tiny, as is the nearby village of Penally, with a population of 850.

Meanwhile, Napier Barracks will hold 400, all young males too. They sleep in dormitories with varying numbers of beds; one reportedly housing at least 28 beds with two toilets. Permanently-flooded bathroom floors and tensions due to confined space are among problems documented. In mid-October, The Guardian newspaper reported on one Covid-19 case at the camp and dozens being quarantined. In November there have been protests at both camps, and at the end of the month there was a suicide attempt at Napier.

Have charities found it easy to access to the building?

Around the camps, there’s been frequent appearance of right-wing groups and charities have complained of harassment accessing the buildings. Elsewhere are reports of intimidation and verbal abuse through the fences, or filming meant to vilify them on social media.

Charities allowed inside the buildings, including the British Red Cross, have repeatedly assessed the camps to be ‘unacceptable,’ and express grave concerns over access to health and psychiatric care and legal advice. All are also familiar with the government’s latest instalment of ‘hostile environment’ policy, weighted to a fast-track deportation agenda tied to the UK’s exit from the EU.

How is the current political climate influencing the flux of asylum seekers into the UK?

Recent weeks have seen a range of immigration proposals from Home Secretary Priti Patel that have prompted widespread condemnation, following talk of using the navy, nets or ‘wave machines’ to deter migrant boat crossings.

Despite a much higher number of channel crossings, applications for asylum fell by around 40% in the second quarter to 4,850 against 8,455 in the previous quarter. Heavy coverage of crossings this year was incentivised by the likes of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and pressure groups like Migration Watch. Heavy agitation and misinformation campaigns from anti-immigration parties, including figures over hotel costs, general vilification including social media claims and photos later factchecked as false, and attempts to establish them as ‘illegal.’

Nonetheless, in recent months, immigration has actually fallen sharply. Passenger travel dropped 97% in the second quarter due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions – one of the main reasons why so many have opted for the dangerous channel crossing route.

In late October, a family of four, including two children, drowned off the French coast when their boat capsized. Their baby was lost at sea. This follows the death of a sixteen-year-old in August.

What does the immediate future hold for asylum seekers in the UK?

While seeking UK asylum isn’t illegal, the Dublin III Regulations, an agreement with the EU that allows the UK to ask for safe countries to take back asylum seekers, will end in January 2021 with the UK’s EU exit. The Home Office is believed to be trying to deport as many as possible before then, increasing the hostile climate in the process.

Mr Walawalker also reminded FairPlanet of a recent enlightening statement from Karen Doyle, National Organiser at Movement for Justice, commenting on the measures adopted by the UK government to tackle the issue of refugees’ arrival in the country:

“They have designed a Dover to Deportation pipeline, at every stage frustrating refugees’ ability to get the legal advice, care and support they need”.

* Immigration News UK (ImmiNews) is part of an organisation of UK and Ireland immigration lawyers.

Article written by:
Federica-Tedeschi
Federica Tedeschi
Author
United Kingdom
AVID has expressed extensive concern, following evidence revealing the inadequate conditions in which asylum seekers.
In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, immigration lawyers have raised concerns that forcing 15 people to share a room at Napier Barracks breaches the Home Office’s own guidance on social distancing.
It started just after the government’s sudden announcement that it was setting up its first ‘migrant camps’ in the UK with no consultation with local authorities.
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