Treat seekers of sanctuary with dignity – close Napier and Penally now

Just when you think you can’t get any more ashamed of the Home Office, they do something that takes your breath away.

Since last September, they have been effectively detaining seekers of sanctuary in two former military barracks in conditions which are less than humane. The Napier site in Kent and the Penally site at Tenby in Wales have housed accommodated hundreds of people in stark conditions. The detainees are supposed to be free to come and go but this does not seem to be how it operates in practice.

At a time when we are being told to socially distance and not mix indoors with other households at all, vulnerable refugees are put into dormitory accommodation. No wonder there have been outbreaks of Covid.

This week Jack Shenker described the harsh reality of their situation in an article in the Guardian:

From the moment the Home Office announced last year that it had struck a deal with the Ministry of Defence to repurpose Napier and another disused military site in Penally, south Wales, for this purpose, an extraordinary array of experts in the field – from doctors to lawyers to migrant support workers – have warned against the idea. Their fear was that following long journeys which had already left people physically and mentally vulnerable, and which were often precipitated by acts of state brutality, a martial environment of high walls and watchtowers was a deeply inappropriate form of accommodation for those seeking asylum, and wouldn’t provide them with the medical support and other basic services needed.

Even more pressingly, concerns were raised about the health implications of herding large numbers of people together during a deadly pandemic. At Napier, meals are served in a communal canteen and up to 28 people share a single sleeping area and two bathrooms, making social distancing impossible. For months, residents – who were theoretically free to come and go during the day, albeit at the sentries’ whim – have been trying to sound the alarm over the deteriorating situation inside: cold and cramped conditions, rising tensions and multiple suicide attempts.

It is of particular concern that volunteers trying to help the detainees have been made to sign confidentiality agreements to stop them revealing conditions at the camps.

Our Home Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael spoke out against this:

“Volunteers seeking to help vulnerable people should not be forced to keep silent through an abuse of the Official Secrets Act. Conditions in asylum facilities are not a matter of national security.

“These reports show the need for an urgent independent inspection of the facilities and treatment of asylum seekers housed at Napier barracks. The Home Office must be totally transparent about what is happening behind closed doors.”

On Friday a fire at the Napier site prompted Home Secretary Priti Patel to blame the vulnerable refugees, as the Guardian reports:

Clare Mosley, founder of Care4Calais, said: “For a British home secretary to accuse and castigate ordinary people when the facts of this incident are not yet even known is shocking and disturbing. It shows a senior government minister operating at the gutter level of gossip and hearsay, and at a time of heightened anxiety and tension across society, she should be ashamed of herself.

“But make no mistake, this not simply a careless, off-the-cuff emotional response. It is a misleading, opportunistic smoke screen concocted to deflect attention from the multiple warnings she has had about what was clearly going to happen at Napier barracks.”

As you would expect, our indefatigable peer Roger Roberts, has been a thorn in the government’s side about these bases for months, asking a series of questions of ministers, most recently

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 27 November 2020 (HL10838), what assessment they have made of protests by asylum seekers at the Napier Barracks on 12 January; and what plans they have to reassess their assessment that “the accommodation itself is entirely adequate for its purpose, with the same standards applied as for other asylum accommodation”.

He also raised the reports that security guards confiscated a Christmas meal donated by volunteers.

We should all be very worried that the Government treats people like this because if they can do it to anyone, they can do it to any of us. Now is the time to lay down a marker and say that we do not consent to our fellow humans being incarcerated in this way with no due process and no end in sight.

If you agree, do something to raise awareness of their situation (for example sign this petition) and help the organisations who are trying to help them.




* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Helen Dudden 31st Jan '21 - 11:33am

    It is sad to think, this topic has been a no go area. The general idea is to slow the virus down, and for a start in this situation it can’t happen.
    Priti Patel commented that those living there were ungrateful, yes for what?
    People smugglers, are making so much out of the misery of other’s. Several children, were fished out of the bitterly cold English Channel. There have been deaths in terrible conditions, yet it still goes on.
    Firstly, like the lorry drivers and the vaccine that has caused so much anger. Surely, someone has the ability to have a conversation, by zoom or Skype, to try for a more positive outcome.
    My grandchild lives in Spain, I do not feel, I should be against the Spanish. My grandson told me how unhappy things are in Madrid.
    Things change, we all change, it’s sad to think we can’t be civilised and help one another at this difficult time.
    This government is again being narrow minded, look at the whole picture.

  • The Penally barracks are about 20 minutes away from me and our MSC for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Alistair Cameron has been involved with Stand Up To Racism West Wales and liaising with Welsh Party Leader, Jane Dodds, to get questions raised in the Commons.
    To my knowledge, Priti Patel has not been to either site. IF she has, I apologise. But if the accommodation is as good as safe as she thinks it is, maybe she’d care to spend a week at Penally or Folkestone.
    Pembrokeshire County Council is trying to reclaim £55,000 a month back from the Home Office and Dyfed-Powys Police say its cost them about £1m to date.
    These 2 set of barracks should be closed immediately and asylum seekers.

  • “28 people sharing a common sleeping area.”
    That’s about the size of the Cabinet, perhaps we should suggest they might try spending a weekend in one of these camps, all sharing the same sleeping and eating arrangements?
    Not quite Chequers.

  • Mark Blackburn 1st Feb '21 - 12:53pm

    In a further worrying development, a professional photographer taking pictures at Napier was arrested. When the state starts cracking down on the press…

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