Cross-party parliamentarians have urged UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to cease the use of former military barracks for confining asylum seekers. In a letter to the Home Secretary, members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention wrote: “We do not believe such sites provide the safe, stable accommodation that people seeking asylum – many of whom have histories of torture, trafficking and other serious trauma – need in order to recover and rebuild their lives.” (Although authorities have now closed Penally Camp in Wales, they are continuing to employ Napier Barracks–a facility that was the site of a large COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year. See 4 February 2021 update on this platform.)
In early March, the Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Inspection Team Leader at HM Inspectorate of Prisons published their initial findings following site visits to both Napier and Penally. In their report, the inspectors highlighted serious concerns, including the lack of COVID security in accommodation (given large communal sleeping areas); poor fire safety; the presence of inexperienced managers lacking the necessary skills to run such facilities; and isolation blocks deemed unfit for habitation. In a survey conducted by the inspectors, a third of respondents among detainees as Napier reported having felt suicidal, and at Penally the vast majority reported that they did not feel they were being kept safe from the risk of infection.
Meanwhile, as UK authorities race to vaccinate the country’s population, some have warned that migrants’ fear of deportation may be stopping many from accessing the vaccine. Although government guidelines state that non-nationals–including undocumented migrants–can access the vaccine free of charge, numerous reports have suggested that undocumented migrants are afraid to register with a GP to access the vaccination out of fear that their data will be shared with the Home Office. In a letter to the UK’s Vaccine Minister, Labour MP Sarah Owen and Conservative Peer Lord Sheikh asked how the government planned on reaching those who might be reluctant to access the vaccine. They added: “We are deeply concerned that the large numbers of people who are undocumented will be highly vulnerable and disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, while also being some of the most hesitant to reach out to receive their vaccine.” In February, over 140 NGOs, faith groups, local authorities, and medical organisations urged authorities to establish a firewall between medical bodies and immigration authorities.
- All Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention, “Letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel,” Twitter, 16 April 2021, https://twitter.com/APPGDetention/status/1383456806110851074/photo/1
- The Guardian, “MPs and Peers Urge Priti Patel to Shut Napier Barracks Asylum Site,” 17 April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/apr/17/mps-peers-urge-priti-patel-shut-napier-barracks-asylum-site
- Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, “An Inspection of the Use of Contingency Asylum Accommodation – Key Findings From Site Visits to Penally Camp and Napier Barracks,” 8 March 2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/an-inspection-of-the-use-of-contingency-asylum-accommodation-key-findings-from-site-visits-to-penally-camp-and-napier-barracks
- The Guardian, “Inspectors Condemn Covid Safety of Barracks Used to House Asylum Seekers,” 8 March 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/mar/08/inspectors-report-condemns-covid-security-of-home-office-asylum-barracks
- UK Government, “COVID-19: Migrant Health Guide,” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-migrant-health-guide
- Forbes, “Covid-19 Vaccines: Deportation Fears May Be Limiting Uptake Among Undocumented Migrants In The U.K.” 6 March 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/katherinehignett/2021/03/06/covid-19-vaccines-deportation-fears-may-be-limiting-uptake-among-undocumented-migrants-in-the-uk/?sh=6ff578bd8605
- The Independent, “Coronavirus ‘Amnesty’ to Get Undocumented Migrants Vaccinated Will Not be Enough, Ministers Warned,” 8 February 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-immigration-amnesty-vaccine-b1799280.html