Socialist Worker

Refugees in Napier and Penally camps feel vindicated after damning report

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2746

An isolation room at the former Napier army barracks in Kent

An isolation room at the former Napier army barracks in Kent (Pic: Gov.uk)


Refugees trapped in camps across Britain felt “depressed and hopeless at their circumstances”, according to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICBI).

Inspectors from the ICBI and the Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) this week released the key findings of their initial investigation into temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.

It showed that refugees and anti-racists were right to protest about the dire conditions at the Penally camp in West Wales and Napier Barracks in Kent.

One refugee who was taken to Napier told Socialist Worker, “It was great hearing the same things from inspectors that we were raising.

“We finally felt our voices are heard.

“This means the only people who are defending the camps are the Home Office and Priti Patel herself.”

Inspectors found that the Home Office gave contractors “less than two weeks to make each site operational” despite opening the sites during a pandemic.

Cold, hunger and racism—refugees trapped in Penally camp speak out over conditions
Cold, hunger and racism—refugees trapped in Penally camp speak out over conditions
  Read More

Cramped conditions at Napier meant “once one person was infected, large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable”.

During an outbreak where 178 refugees tested positive, all 400 residents were unable to leave their bunks for four weeks.

“In our resident surgery at Napier, none of those who responded felt they had been kept safe from Covid-19,” the inspectors added.

The refugee from Napier, who caught the virus, said, “It’s a scandal that they knew these places were not safe and Covid-19 compliant. But they couldn’t care less for the lives of vulnerable people.

“This just shows that the ignorance was intentional and deliberate.”

The mental health of residents suffered as a result. The report found that at both sites around “a third of respondents said they had mental health problems” and about a third at Napier said they’d felt suicidal.

For those who were experiencing mental distress “there was inadequate support”.

“People at high risk of self-harm were located in a decrepit ‘isolation block’ which we considered unfit for habitation,” the inspectors found.

Unsanitary 

The unsanitary conditions that refugees have been exposing were also recorded. Both sites were “impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation”.

“Cleanliness at both sites was variable at best,” the inspectors said. “Cleaning was made difficult by the ages of the buildings. Some areas were filthy.”

Inspectors also found that residents had “a lack of privacy, a lack of control over their day to day lives, and limited information about what would happen to them”. This again “had a corrosive effect on residents’ morale and mental health”.

The management structure was unclear and staff “lacked the experience and skills to run large-scale communal accommodation”.

Asylum seeker in Kent army barracks speaks out—‘We are locked up in hell’
Asylum seeker in Kent army barracks speaks out—‘We are locked up in hell’
  Read More

This was put down to “fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office”. Home Office representatives were “rarely present” and communication “was poor”.

At Napier 62 residents were still stuck at the camp in mid-February and since December 80 have been left at Penally.

“The Home Office has not shown any sign of a decision to close the camps,” the Napier refugee said. “It’s also mentioned in the inspector’s findings that new asylum seekers will be transferred to Napier barracks.

“They want to hold people there for one month and replace them with new ones again.

“I don’t think the Home Office will close it, but will make the duration of the stay shorter. It’s mainly because they don’t want to admit they made a mistake. Someone is obviously stubborn and cruel in the Home Office.”

Patrick from Stand Up To Racism West Wales said the findings of the report weren’t a surprise. “We already knew all this and it’s about time it’s been said,” he told Socialist Worker. “We need to ask why the refugees were put there in the first place.

“But the ultimate conclusion should be to close all the camps.”

Anti-racists must make it clear on 20 March, a day of action on UN anti-racism day, that the government will not get away with their racist treatment of refugees.

Read the inspectors’ key findings here. More about Stand Up To Racism’s day of action on 20 March here

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