Barracks & Barges

Following concerns around the cost of hotels and the issues therein, the Government vowed to end the use of hotels as accommodation. This subsequently his resulted in the acquisition of barges and the repurposing of military barracks[1] – all of which have resulted in much criticism from the voluntary sector and community groups, as well as local authorities, due to their unsuitability and dehumanising effect[2].

Bibby Stockholm

In 2023, the government acquired a barge by the name of Bibby Stockholm, to house asylum seekers. The barge is docked in Portland and has faced a number of issues, not least of which is NGO concerns over its suitability. The barge failed to comply with safety procedures and risk assessments from the outset, delaying its opening, with firefighters calling it a ‘deathtrap’[3]. It thereafter had a legionnaires outbreak, and in December 2023, Leonard Farruku, an Albanian seeking asylum, was found dead on the barge.

Despite ongoing concerns regarding the suitability of the barge, its isolated location and detention like conditions, as well as its impact on vulnerable individuals who have suffered persecution and torture, the Government continues to advocate for its use, citing the savings made, but a report by NGOs Reclaim the Seas and One Life to Live concluded that the most generous saving the Home Office can make is £9.28 per person, per day[4].

Additionally, earlier this year, the Home Affairs Select Committee visited the Bibby Stockholm as part of its inquiry into Migration and Asylum, following which they wrote to the Home Secretary noting the poor conditions on board, lack of mental health support and lack of communication from the Home Office to residents[5].

The letter also notes the lack of consultation and engagement with local communities in the area, which is noted to be the case with repurposed military barracks across the country.

Repurposed Military Barracks

Napier Barracks, located in Kent,was repurposed in September 2020 to accommodate those seeking asylum due to the Covid outbreak and its subsequent impact on asylum system. Napier Barracks is the first to be repurposed into camp-like settings in the UK.

In June 2021, the High Court found that Napier Barracks provided inadequate accommodation, the Home Office’s selection process was flawed and unlawful, and individuals were unlawfully detained under purported Covid rules[6].

In 2022, CSAN member, JRS UK, concluded an in-depth report of the experiences of the individuals accommodated in Napier Barracks. The key findings in the report were as follows:

  1. Taken to an unknown place: people were routinely brought to the camp without their prior knowledge, which caused deep anxiety.
  2. A daily struggle: the camp was noisy and crowded, lacking privacy and resulted in sleep deprivation for many. The military and prison-like physical setting of the camp forced many to relive their trauma and greatly impacted the mental health of those in the camp.
  3. Faling those with vulnerabilities: serious failures in screening for vulnerabilities led to survivors of torture and survivors of human trafficking to be placed in the camp, where there was inadequate welfare support available and barriers to accessing healthcare.
  4. Lack of legal advice: it was almost impossible to secure legal advice in the camp, and what was available was highly inadequate.

The report recommends the immediate and permanent closure of Napier Barracks, and the abandonment of any plans for the use of large-scale institutional asylum accommodation, alongside the provision of safe and dignified accommodation for asylum seekers, within communities.

The report can be accessed in full on the JRS UK website: https://www.jrsuk.net/napier-report/

The report was published in March 2023, identifying the harms caused to asylum seekers when accommodated in camp-like settings which are considered quasi-detention, and calling for accommodation within communities, but the Government has since acquired a barge and repurposed further military barracks, all of which have been opposed by locals and NGOs.

Other repurposed barracks include:

RAF Wethersfield began accommodating asylum seekers from 12 July 2023[7]. It accommodates single adult male asylum seekers between the ages of 18 and 65, with capacity capped at maximum 800 individuals. The site is operated by Clearsprings Ready Homes, a private contractor, under supervision of the Home Office.

Braintree Council have expressed concerns over the lack of transparency and limited information provided to stakeholders and the local community, including bypassing the local planning authority to extend the use of the camp for a further 3 years[8]. The local MP, James Cleverley, has also criticised the use of the barracks and has noted he wishes to close the centre down ‘as soon as possible’[9].

The centre is isolated due to its rural location, placing it miles away from any amenities and forcibly restricting the movement and community support and integration of individuals. There is much concern regarding the severe mental health harms to residents following the removal of 178 people from the camp since its opening – including 15 of whom were children and are now under the care of Essex County Council[10].

Due to the unsuitability of the accommodation, four individuals who were accommodated at the centre issued claims for a judicial review against the Home Secretary and in February 2024 were granted permission by the High Court to proceed to trial[11]. The claimants are challenging, amongst other things, the use of the accommodation and the Home Secretary’s failure to provide a dignified standard of living, providing evidence of extremely vulnerable individuals being accommodated at the centre, including survivors of torture, survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery, and individuals with significant mental and/or physical health issues

RAF Scampton, an ex-RAF site located in Lincoln, is due to house single adult male asylum seekers between the ages of 18 and 65, capped at 800 individuals. The site is to be operated by Serco, a private contractor, under supervision of the Home Office.

The site is not yet functional as the Home office is still developing the Operational Management Plan for the site, but also due to the local council having served a planning Enforcement and Stop Notice on the site due to the Home Office’s failure to engage in meaningful consultation with the local community and recognise the impact it will have on the local area and heritage site[12]. It was also recently reported that the site is contaminated with ‘ground gases and unexploded ordnance’[13].

The council, local politicians and the community have noted the unsuitability of the site for accommodating asylum seekers and the site has witnessed a rise in assaults and demonstrations[14].

CSAN member Caritas Nottingham is part of the conversation and involved in planning frontline support for those due to be accommodated at the centre:

  1. A new Lincoln City of Sanctuary organisation will be established to enable local residents and organisations to provide a practical welcome, gather donations of goods, cash and services, and build cohesion in the community
  2. Alliance member organisations aim to provide an integrated range of services.  These include health (especially mental health) support; information, advice and guidance; English teaching and conversation; interpretation; sport and cultural enrichment; opportunities for asylum seekers to volunteer; and support for legal issues and move-on accommodation.
  3. A Chaplaincy and Wellbeing Hub will seek to provide culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed pastoral care, religious provision, wellbeing support, friendship networks and signposting to specialist services.

[1] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9831/

[2] https://www.jrsuk.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/JRS-UK-Report_Napier-Barracks-the-inhumane-reality_March-2023_WEB.pdf

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/aug/01/bibby-stockholm-asylum-barge-is-potential-deathtrap-say-firefighters

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jul/11/housing-asylum-seekers-on-barge-may-only-save-10-a-person-daily-report-says

[5] committees.parliament.uk/publications/43175/documents/214806/default/

[6] https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/the-use-of-napier-barracks-to-house-asylum-seekers-regret-motion/

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/asylum-accommodation-wethersfield/wethersfield-factsheet

[8] https://www.braintree.gov.uk/news/article/624/home-office-special-development-order-process-for-wethersfield-asylum-accommodation-runs-against-the-spirit-of-national-planning-policy-claims-council

[9] https://www.itv.com/news/anglia/2023-12-18/asylum-seeker-warns-centre-not-safe-as-fight-footage-emerges

[10] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/c1415l12lgqo?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA

[11] https://dpglaw.co.uk/high-court-grants-permission-to-proceed-to-trial-in-challenge-to-the-use-of-raf-wethersfield-as-asylum-accommodation/

[12] https://www.west-lindsey.gov.uk/council-news/2024/02/council-votes-unanimously-launch-fresh-legal-challenge-governments-long-term-asylum-plans-raf

[13] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2024/apr/01/former-raf-base-to-house-asylum-seekers-is-contaminated-government-letters-say-scampton-lincolnshire

[14] https://www.lincs.police.uk/news/lincolnshire/news/2024/feb-2024/increase-in-reports-of-incidents-at-former-raf-scampton-site/