Protest against the British government's Illegal Migration Bill Protest against the British government's Illegal Migration Bill  (ANSA)

JRS report denounces inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in UK

JRS UK releases a report on the inhumane conditions of residents in the Napier Barracks a disused army base in Kent which as been converted into an asylum accommodation, urging the British Government to close it and to provide asylum seekers with safe and dignified accommodation.

By Lisa Zengarini

As the British government’s controversial Illegal Migration Bill advances amid strong criticism from opposition parties and humanitarian organizations, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has published a scathing report that showcases what the future of asylum will look like in the UK if the bill is enacted.

The report, released on March 29, denounces the inhumane conditions experienced by asylum seekers held in quasi-detention at the Napier Barracks, an isolated disused army base in Kent which was temporarily converted into an asylum accommodation in autumn 2020. In September 2021, the British government deployed emergency powers to extend the site’s use for this purpose for another five years.

The move came despite significant criticism of facilities at the site, including a judgment from the High Court declaring them inadequate, and the Home Office guilty of employing unlawful practices. Also, according to the Cour,  the use of emergency powers bypassed consultation with local community that such an extension would normally require.

An inhumane reality

Titled “Napier Barracks: the inhumane reality”, the JRS report is based on in-depth conversations held by its staff with people who had been at the camp in 2022, after the High Court judgment, when these criticalities were supposed to have been addressed.

The Jesuit Refugee Service ran an outreach service to Napier for two years from October 2020.

What emerged on the ground, says the summary, “was deeply troubling”: the site was bleak and rundown, the setting was securitised, the accommodation was crowded, taking a serious toll on residents’ mental health.

“I was in Napier barracks for more than 2 months. I am now looking back at what I have been through and think how traumatising that experience was. The whole asylum process was traumatising, and Napier barracks was emblematic of that.”

Key findings from those conversations include: people being routinely brought to the camp without their prior knowledge, causing them deep anxiety; harsh military and prison-like living conditions, with overcrowding and no privacy; serious failures in screening for vulnerabilities, namely survivors of both trafficking and torture who continued to be placed and remain there;  barriers to accessing healthcare, and lack of legal advice. Also, safety issues have not been addressed after a serious fire broke out at the camp at the end of January 2021.

In  light of these findings, the 35-pages report urges the UK government “to immediately and permanently close” the Napier Barracks, and abandon its plans for greater use of large-scale institutional asylum accommodation  and, instead, to  provide asylum seekers “with safe and dignified accommodation within British communities” which, it says  “is better for the mental health of people seeking asylum, and for communities as a whole” and “supports integration”.

“This kind of accommodation is damaging to people seeking asylum, denying them both agency and respite, and ghettoising them away from wider communities. It also militates against integration.”

The Bishops ‘Love the Stranger’ document

The JRS Report follows the recent publication by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) of a document calling on policy makers to uphold the human dignity of migrants and refugees, and reminding them that any immigration policy should be based on “the innate worth of each human person”. Titled ‘Love the Stranger’,  the publication offers a list of 24 principles based on the Catholic Social Teachings and Popes’ Magisterium that should guide any immigration policy.

Growing criticism against PM Rishi Sunak’s New Plan for Immigration

It was published amid growing criticism against PM Rishi Sunak’s New Plan for Immigration which includes banning illegal migrants making dangerous journeys across the English Channel on small boats from entering the UK in the future and deporting them either back to their own country or to so-called safe third countries.

The measure has raised many ethical, along with legal questions regarding its compliance with international law, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Global Compact on Refugees, and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Over 60 British NGOs, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MPs and academics have written to Sunak to ask him to withdraw the proposed legislation, saying it would cause unnecessary deaths and would fuel modern slavery. Among the signatories are "Anti-Slavery International” and Amnesty International UK refugee & migrant rights programme director Steve Valdez-Symonds.

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30 March 2023, 14:09