back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

04 February 2021 – United Kingdom

J. Shenker, “Locked in Barracks with Covid Running Rampant. Is This Any Way to Treat Asylum Seekers?” The Guardian, 27 January 2021,
J. Shenker, “Locked in Barracks with Covid Running Rampant. Is This Any Way to Treat Asylum Seekers?” The Guardian, 27 January 2021,

Since opening as asylum accommodation in October 2020, the UK’s Napier Barracks–formerly military barracks operated by the Ministry of Defence–have been the subject of intense criticism. Run by a private contractor (Clearsprings, which stands to make £1 billion in ten years from its government contracts to run asylum centres in Wales and South East England), Napier is not officially a detention centre. However, newly arrived asylum seekers are transferred to the facility before any determination of their status has been made, and they are “effectively forced to remain while their refugee claims are considered.” The facility has been regularly criticised for overcrowding, limited access to healthcare and legal advice, and unsuitable accommodation conditions, with several images showing bedsheets hung up to create privacy, and overflowing toilet blocks. One Iranian asylum seeker told the Guardian, “The first impression I had was it looked like a prison. There were fences, security guards walking around, I was really depressed. … There is no support for mental wellbeing. We have one nurse on site, in case you get a cold or flu. People are getting more and more frustrated.”

In mid-January the facility witnessed a large COVID-19 outbreak during which more than 120 asylum seekers contracted the virus. Accounts from those inside the facility paint a bleak picture: the centre’s management allegedly failed to adopt health measures to protect against infection and instead treated the entire facility as “one big house”–allowing the virus to spread rapidly and seemingly uncontrollably.

Activists and rights advocates, calling for the immediate closure of the facility, have held frequent protests outside the barracks. A freelance photographer who photographed one such protest on 28 January was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage–and had his camera and memory card confiscated. The photographer, 46 year old Andy Aitchison, commented, “It feels like a light has been shone on them and they’ve got the sledgehammer out. It’s censorship: if you don’t toe the line, we shut you down.”

The day after Aitchison’s arrest, a fire started in one of the barracks’ blocks, leaving the rest of the facility without electricity, heating, and drinking water. Charities who offered to provide blankets were reportedly turned away. Responding to the fire, the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel immediately condemned the event and warned that the Home Office would take action against those “vandalising property” while also justifying the continued use of the military space for accommodating asylum seekers. She tweeted, “The site has previously accommodated our brave soldiers and army personnel – it is an insult to say that it is not good enough for these individuals.” However, as one lawyer representing an asylum seeker in the facility responded, “My client, a victim of torture, having fled the civil war in Darfur is not being ‘accommodated’ – he is being detained in a military camp, in ear shot of regular gun fire from MoD [Ministry of Defence] firing range, trapped with 400 other ppl, at least 120 of whom have covid, and no proper healthcare.”