Yet an impact assessment over the use of the barracks, conducted in September 2020 and leaked in February this year, revealed that the barracks – labelled derelict in a 2014 report, and not used by the army for over a decade – had been selected because more “generous” accommodation would “undermine public confidence in the asylum system”.
Chai Patel, legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: “The government implied these cramped and disused barracks were being used as temporary housing because there was no alternative. But this document reveals that the Home Office has been jeopardising people’s health for partly political ends – prioritising playing ‘tough’ on migration over the lives of extremely vulnerable people, who’ve been placed in conditions reminiscent of those they were fleeing.”
Hotels, or integration?
Hashem was relocated to a London hotel at the beginning of March, after going on a five-day hunger strike to protest conditions inside Napier. He is starting to feel optimistic. “Now I can see people [from my hotel], the buildings and the activity in the city, it’s making me hopeful that I am going to be able to start a new life.”
Ethan was moved in mid-February and says that once he receives his asylum application result he wants to find a job in social work, which he majored in at university. “I really want to work and help people and contribute to society,” he tells me, although delays and poor communication from the Home Office have left him feeling “in limbo”.
All of the asylum seekers I’ve spoken to are now living in hotels whilst they await the processing of their claims.
Hashem says the hotel is “definitely better” than Napier Barracks, “but when I say hotel it doesn’t mean that it’s the best place, or it’s always suitable, because the place where I’m currently living is very dirty and there’s nothing in it – hardly any facilities and the food is really bad.”
In recent months there have been allegations of poor conditions and treatment inside hotels housing asylum seekers, including claims of sexual harassment and threatening behaviour in hotels overseen by Clearsprings.
It’s a far cry from the cushy treatment invoked by Priti Patel to justify the building of more basic, barracks-style accommodation.
Naughton from Choose Love tells me that many of the options currently used to house asylum seekers are inadequate and causing a “mental health crisis”.
“They’re often incredibly remote. The water and sanitation is not up to standard. People don’t have access to mental health services, they haven’t got access to legal services. This is not always the case, but a lot of the time, [there is] very inadequate food and real destitution and lack of information,” says Naughton, adding that “Freedom is questionable”.
Community-based housing, not further basic “reception centres”, are the answer, she tells me.
Chai Patel, from JCWI, says that the government’s actions, particularly the use of former military barracks as asylum accommodation, seem “designed to create very visible problems…to appear to be as tough as possible, because that’s what they think their voters want. And to put people in difficult, dangerous situations, because they think that will deter people from seeking safety.”
*Names have been changed