Unfortunately, I was unable to attend today’s Westminster Hall debates on asylum accommodation and immigration detention. I therefore wanted to take the time to set out my views and my work campaigning for a just and humane asylum system.
Since the onset of the pandemic an unprecedented number of people seeking refugee protection have been forced into unsafe and inappropriate housing. Over 12,000 people—almost a fifth of all supported people seeking asylum—are currently living in hotels and other facilities; some have been stuck in the same room for many months, with their freedoms controlled, little to no money for essentials, and extremely limited meaningful access to healthcare, legal advice, or digital access.
Early in the pandemic I called for a review into asylum housing following a large covid-19 outbreak at an initial accommodation centre in Wakefield. Concerns were raised that the site could reopen despite complaints having been registered regarding the hygiene and safety of the accommodation both pre- and post-outbreak, and no adequate changes being made.
I have also pressed for in-person immigration bail reporting to be suspended for the duration of the pandemic, as it was throughout the first lockdown, to ensure that everyone is able to comply with the Government’s guidance and stay at home.
We have all seen the stories in recent months of some people being forced to live in shared dormitories in disused barracks in Napier and Penally. In January 2021 I wrote to Priti Patel to raise significant concerns about the usage of barracks as asylum accommodation. The conditions in the barracks are shocking. Contrary to public health guidance, vulnerable residents have been forced to sleep in dorms of up to 28 people with beds just two metres apart. It is unsurprising that there was a significant covid-19 outbreak this year at Napier barracks, resulting in 197 people testing positive.
Despite warnings from health experts, clinicians, residents, and other Parliamentarians, the Home Office has refused to close the barracks and move people to safe housing in the community. The department continues to consider other inappropriate sites. It is deeply concerning that it has delayed the publication of the long-awaited independent review of initial accommodation for asylum seekers—in the interest of transparency I have pressed the Minister to release this report and I will continue to do so.
Tomorrow, Parliament consider revisions to the Immigration Act to revise Government guidance on the detention of vulnerable people. I have previously signed a motion to object to this revision and written to the Home Secretary because it would put survivors of modern slavery at even greater risk of detention. If passed, these changes would result in an unacceptable loss of freedom and liberty for survivors. It is also deeply worrying that the Minister attempted to enact these changes without any Parliamentary scrutiny.
I am opposed to the Home Office’s entire approach to immigration. Instead of supporting integration, Ministers are creating and maintaining a hostile environment for people seeking refugee protection.
- People living in both barracks and hotels have been left exposed to the threat of covid-19 and have reported deteriorations in their mental and physical health.
- Those subject to immigration bail conditions have been forced to choose between being threatened with deportation or reporting to a centre and risking infection.
- And those living in hotels and other facilities have been forced to share unhygienic facilities with others, gone long periods with access to soap, or adequate food, and struggled to access healthcare.
These problems cannot be solved by piecemeal changes but reveal the need for wholesale reforms to our asylum system.
I have previously written to the Home Secretary to raise the need for an asylum system which takes human dignity as its starting point. It is vital that asylum seekers are given the support needed to avoid destitution, including being given access to education and being granted permission to work.
We need to begin the process of reforming our asylum system to create one that is fair, just, and treats people with dignity.