Inside Napier: the former army barracks housing asylum seekers

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Today why is the home office keeping asylum seekers in former barracks. I was staying at a hotel in london for three weeks and then one day in the morning after two weeks a bad reception called me and say pack your stop. You're going to be transferred. And i was really confused anxious because when you're in that position you're not you can't predict what's going to happen next. Swear you're gonna go. Maybe it's gonna be a dispersed accommodation. Or maybe it's going to be. A deport sensor cannot predict this man. We're calling my time has come to the uk from iran and is seeking asylum. When i packed my stuff went out. I asked texts driver where we are going to and he didn't respond because maybe i think they had the fear that if they informed people ignace cape so i just found out when i saw the folkston sign under wrote. When you are heading to napier barracks. Napier is a former army barracks in kent. But it hasn't been used to house the military for fifteen years now. The home office has re purposed it as a combination for up to four hundred vulnerable asylum. Seekers it's one of two sites they using the other is pinelli wiles. Minister say it's temporary accommodation because of the pressures of covid nineteen but men like matter who were not supposed to be detained. It feels like being sent to jail when i got. It's totally filled like prison. Defense the security guards all around you and you're really under control your movement hours or limited two times that day keeping you. Everyone is observing. You and i mean if you ask me personally. It was worse than prison when you're in prison. You know what you're being detained and you know how long you're going to be there. But these are not the chases neck napier barracks missile seeker from the guardian. I'm chris kristalina. Today in focus inside napier. The former army barracks used to house asylum seekers. I want to before we start that we mentioned self harm and suicide in this episode jamie grayson as fast correspondent for the guardian. Can you take us to the basics of this story. More on napier and pinelli. When did they start being used to house. People who are seeking asylum in september twenty twenty emerged that the home office had set up a deal with the ministry of defence to use to former military sites. One called napier barracks just outside of folkston. Kent and the other cooled pinelli barracks in pembrokeshire in south wales to temporarily house asylum seekers that was very little consultation. The news of the sites being used emerged through local authorities and local. mp's who objected from the outset. And that's how it was brought to attention of the public and the press for the majority of this episode. We're going to be focusing on napier barracks because what's been happening. There has been dramatic to say the least arrested been. Have you ever saw like new ice then inside taken to the streets surrounding the barracks in protest over grim conditions. They're living in october ours or are they protesting. Because i told me exercise you say tested. Tell us that. They're doing this because they want to offer value for money for the taxpayer because currently migrants are housed in hotels while they're signed. How did you first get alerted to it. I started getting calls from volunteers working charities in the local area to provide donations to the site and they were raising concerns about the conditions napier barracks and what they were telling me really did shock me take the overcrowding on the sites are fourteen blogs that has residents asylum-seekers bit can house twenty eight people each and the people who are inside our sharing two toilets and two showers in total. So even when it's not during the pandemic this place was not suitable and not hygienic. To keep four hundred people in one place for example. When i got there. I got capeeze. Scape base. Yeah in i two or three weeks. That i was stander. What escapees duty. How does it make you feel will. I had to scratch all my body parts of my body and it's became really read and rush. I clinton sleep at nights. Because i couldn't resist scratching. My buddy and two other of my friend in my block had the same problems so it was like when you put four hundred people from different backgrounds. Different cultures and hydrogen is really poor. The chance of getting any kind of disease is really high. Struck me that this was not at all covert secure or try print for the time but on top of this being flung into a military environment. Bob y around the perimeter the many described as looking and feeling like a prison was very alarming for a significant number of the man held inside all sorts of things had the people you stayed within napier experience before they got there will the majority of the silom seekers there are from syria iran iraq. I had one friend for example that when he was a child they used to stay in shelters at night because of the fear. They had the bomb being in shootings during iran. Iraq war on being in napier barracks reminded him the situation that he experienced at nights he was dealing with insomnia. He was taking pills. I mean i have so many stories about the i don't know where to they. All came across countries in europe. They experienced so many teams smugglers people who tried to steal their money or take advantage of them. There were people in the camps who are married and have children in their home. Countries and being in a situation comes through really worsened mental health. How are we spending you days in the first days. I was keeping my mind busy by learning french and reading books and helping people when they wanted interpreter or something to have problems because not all. The people don't speak english so i had to translate for them but after sometimes like after two or three month all of the people there can really hopeless and nuts k. To socialize with others. I've been inundated since september with messages from asylum seekers volunteers lawyers doctors raising different concerns about napier barracks and also palley barracks and this is range from allegations of home office cover-ups when volunteers were presented with nondisclosure agreements. Asking them not to talk to anyone including the press about what they had seen within the site lawyers getting in touch saying that they've been refused access to the site to speak to people. They are actually representing doctors. Raising concerns about the poor access to health care. These are all fundamental human rights with anyone ness onsite at napier to care for up to four hundred. Man is difficult to see how the men's human right to medical access could be fully matt. One medic has been raising concerns about the use of the barracks for months. Now is dr jill. O'leary she's the liege gp at the helen. Bamber foundation a charity working with refugees and asylum seekers and she's been trying to help men inside napier. I'm pinelli well. Many of the residents that we have assessed are displaying symptoms consistent with post traumatic stress disorder accessibility on depression. So specifically those symptoms would be flashbacks. Nightmares irritability anxiety. Poor sleep is quite high. Prevalence of those symptoms among the residents that we've assessed both of the sites have shooting ranges nearby and so it's not uncommon to hear 'em gunfire and and sort of heavy artillery from both of those sites where people are stay. You can understand. Just how triggering re traumatizing. Those noises might be to a large group of traumatize men who are all being housed in these storms. The first residents i ever assessed was a young man from the yemen who had made some negative comments about the yemeni government. He was subsequently imprisoned for ten to fourteen days. He was beaten starved tortured before he managed to escape he then immediately left yemen had a very very difficult journey largely on foot across europe to try and get to the uk once he arrived in the uk he was in initial accommodation in london and starting the silom application process when he was very suddenly moved to pinelli barracks being in this military site where there's high barbed wire and mash and dormitories in shared facilities. Put him right back to his time in prison in the end. He started getting intense flashbacks nightmares. He couldn't sleep. He was avoiding being around to the other residents wherever possible and for the first time in his life he started to have suicidal thoughts so it was a highly inappropriate environment for him to have been placed in and it clearly had very very detrimental effect on his mental health. What medical access of the men guessing. I think first of all. It's really important to say that both the nhs trusts that were expected to take clinical responsibility for these residents were given approximately two days notice before the residents were moved in so no health care pathways. Were put in place prior to moving residents into the barracks. That's a really important thing to bear in mind now boasts the cg's for napier. Finale have put in really really hard work in very very difficult circumstances trying to create health care pathways however access to healthcare remains really inadequate. And there's lots of barriers. Jill says that if the men want to go off site to see a doctor they have to ask permission from the staff at pinelli. That means they're forced to divulge their medical conditions which may be embarrassing or distressing to talk about how to staff who aren't themselves medically trained. It's then up to those members of staff to decide whether or not these people will be able to access medical help. An example of that would be one resident that we assess who had symptoms related to previous torture and that involved him having urinary incontinence he then had to speak to a cure springs manager. Explain about these symptoms of continents that were related to his previous trauma in order to request. Visit to see a gp. You wouldn't be surprised to know that. He found that completely humiliating an objectively his his mental health deteriorated significantly as a result. I mean what you're describing also sounds to me like it needs specialist. Help i imagine your average. Ep doesn't often come across people who have suffered such traumatic events and happy a in response to that. What are the kind of things that you need to watch out for with. Ptsd and how important is it. That these maingot specialist help people who have ptsd. They're likely to behave in ways. That can be destructive impulsive destructive to themselves into their environment they're much higher risk of mortality and morbidity. We need to be really conscious. A fast one i think radio obsessing feature of the barracks also is that. Both sides have become hotbeds for far-right activity. So there's lots of social media groups that are dedicated to monitoring the comings and goings of people from both sides that involves filming people against their will taking pictures of some harassing them. Asking them where they came from when they're leaving one resident that i spoke to who is experiencing quite severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. And i asked him if there was anything told in the barracks that gave him some pleasure some joy and he told me that she liked going for walks down to the beach. He'd sit by the sea and it would suit him but recently he hasn't been able to do that because every time he leaves the barracks he gets followed and harassed in sheriff's insulted and filmed by these far-right protesters. So the one thing that gave him. Some comfort is now been taken away from him. The other big concern for doctors like jail is about the risk of covid nineteen back in november. She and others right to the home office to voice their concern that there could be outbreaks at these sites but she says she never got a response when it came true. Madam was there at napier. I can remember that. The first days of january one block there were around five to six infected people in one block and they isolated the whole block for today's and after two days they open defenses and let infected wants once meeks with other people and when we asked why you did such as they say because the camp is representing a beach house and they are allowed to be free in their own helps. One be kester. One hundred and twenty positive cases were confirmed. I was really frustrated. Because it wasn't possible to practice social distancing it wasn't possible to keep yourself safe from this is after a positive. I had paint oliver. My buddy shivering. At night fever really fatigued. I was still staying in my own room. Which wasn't a room really was just. I'm with certain other people. We were actually four positive cases. Be ten negative cases to sleeping in same area and then things got worse at napier. In late january a fire broke out. Kent fire and rescue service said that they have been called to assist. Can police upbeat napier. In folkston eight fire engines have been sent to the scene. People living window fire happened when i came out of my block. I couldn't see to staff the people who are in charge security guards. The smoke was all over. The flames of the fire was really huge firefights Were trying hard to make everything called. But it was the same day that i felt. I'm really a bad situation really unsafe. And i've never experienced this. That was one of the worst memories. I've had in my life. What happened napier after the fire. How did life change. We had no electricity for today's. I know hot water heaters. I can remember that. I was sleeping in cold dark place for two nights. The fire was horrible for everybody involved. If you couple that with the fact that people are so frightened of contracting covert since. The outbreak has happened in napier. Lots of the dormitories. The residents are opting to sleep with the doors. Open to allow ventilation which i accounting notch on how cold that must be at the moment for them. When the fine crews went in they discovered us best daas. How worrying is that for people's help discovery of asbestosis just proves the point that these sites are not fit for purpose and not fit for anybody to be living in and so people need to be evacuated as soon as possible jamie descriptions we've heard of napier terrible. I'm struggling to understand why the government would hold people who are seeking asylum in those conditions. Have there been any inspections important point. You raise a no so father. Haven't been any inspections by any independent bodies. And i think that really sets these facilities apart from the established framework that we have to deal with either asylum seekers arriving in the uk or those the country wishes to the poor in the last few days we've had confirmation that the borders and immigration inspectorate along with the prisons inspectorate have been granted access to both napier barracks and pinelli camp. We understand that in the last few days since the spectrum was announced the officers significantly reduced the number of man being held at napier barracks to around fifty to one hundred just a few weeks ago. There were of course. Four hundred men at napier barracks i mean. Obviously you can't get in there to have a proper look at these sites. Look like one message that you get from ministers as well. These are good enough our soldiers. Why aren't they good enough for asylum. Seekers what is the response from charities and volunteers to that argument. Well first of all. They haven't housed military personnel for years. I've seen photos and videos of the the buildings inside the urinals often taped up backed up because they're out of water across the floor. The bathrooms the sleeping areas. Have no privacy to the point where the men have had a pin sheets up themselves to create. You know curtain to give themselves some sense of dignity if they want to undress. I would be surprised if they would allow military personnel to stay in them as they are now without some significant renovation. So they've now taken a significant number of people off the site that recognizing at least that it's been overcrowded. Why is the home office using napier and pinelli all the home office and the ministers a saying that at the time they started to use the barracks last september we were dealing with an influx of asylum-seekers seekers. Arriving over the channel you might recall the reporting at the time significant numbers of asylum seekers arriving at the channel in small boats and is correct that on individual days there were significant numbers record breaking numbers arriving on individual days and so the home office said they needed additional contingency accommodation to house this surge in arrivals it's also the case that because of the pandemic and its impact on migration flows that actually during that period the number of asylum applications in total in the uk at fallen because of obviously other routes into the country arriving in a lorry or even on a plane with severely limited so the number of asylum applications actually fell at the time you have to also said it in the context of a lot of rhetoric and messaging. That was coming from the him secretary. Pretty patrol and immigration minister. Chris fill about how to deal with asylum seekers in the country which is much harder than we've seen in recent years that would reports some of which revealed in the guardian about proposals to send asylum seekers to offshore facilities in the south atlantic. That were proposals to silom. Seekers on retired ferries oil rigs now. None of these things have actually happened but it certainly power the broadening rat trick that the home secretary and junior ministers have been using. They keep repeating that. They believed that the asylum system in the uk is broken. And i think that's one thing that they actually have some agreement with when it comes to the charities. Healthcare professionals is speeds. They think is contagious for different reasons. coming up matt and makes it outside. Napier will get the same chance london. Stock exchange group is here to be your essential global markets infrastructure data partner. Where open isn't just a platform but philosophy giving you the freedom to make your mark in the world open makes more possible. Last week he was taken out of napier. What finally happened. That meant you could leave. I was told in the morning like nine or ten. Am i seen by staff. That had to pack my stuff. And i couldn't believe. I mean when you are told debts. You're getting out of the prison. You are sitting so much. Surely it was the same feeling when there wasn't a car on my way to my knicks accommodation. I when i was seeing the buildings people cars and the normal life. It's really affected me. Because i totally forgot how the life is outside of the barracks jamie martin who we've been speaking to is out of napier now on the home office has given him a space in a hotel. Can you explain the legal process. That's enabled him to get out. A number of law firm specializing in human rights. Issues have taken on a number of asylum-seekers within napier as clients and lodging individual legal claims at the high court. They claim that the stay of siam in napier amounts to degrading or inhumane treatment and other claims have been based around ask three which is unfair imprisonment in the interim before the substantial hearings are held at the high called in the interim a couple of judges of already ordered the temporary removal of a number of men from the site based purely on britain. Submissions and the judges were convinced enough by those written submissions. That the men shouldn't remain on the site and ultimately that could be a substantial judicial review hearing which will look at the broader issues of the suitability and appropriateness of using these military sites to house asylum. Seekers we've heard from jail about what she's trying to do to improve the medical access the men in napier and pinelli can have and a lot of people medics lawyers volunteers and others are increasingly trying to highlight what is happening on these two sites in fact earlier this month joe gave evidence to a government select committee and has everybody jay that been tested older residents will the staff working there. Has everybody been tested. So access to testing has also been an intermittent and on some of the mp's. She spoke to seemed shocked by what she told them. Three people cont get canoga test results that still sharing accommodation in which they clearly is not social distancing and there are private cases on the signed treaty. Shocking it's just very troubling information that that will giving us. What is the likelihood. Do you think of the government shutting the size down. It was originally said it would be until the end of march however there have been reports from unnamed sources within the home office that they are considering a public consultation to extend its use beyond march however there are now a number of legal actions in process which could ultimately threaten the the ongoing use of napier and pinelli which is still open. In the meantime what will happen to martin and the people he stayed with all of these men have submitted claims for asylum in the u k now the average waiting times for an asylum claim to be processed goes beyond six months some asylum seekers i've spoken to in in the last years have waited years in the meantime. They're in napier barracks and they don't know when the answers coming. You know one thing. The government says and i've certainly heard this from previous governments certainly since twenty tad is that people have traveled through safe countries to get here and they should have claimed asylum in one of those countries instead of the uk. What do you make of that. The uk received around about forty five thousand applications for asylum in twenty nine thousand nine now. That was less than a third of the applications received by germany. It was about a third of the applications received by france and it was far fewer than the number of applications for asylum received by spain. I'm greece now. We all one of the countries in europe. Which has a high number of aside locations but we are by no means the country that receives the most and there are many who have argued that we should be doing a lot more to help refugees in this country. Who jamie thank you very much. Thank you my. Thanks to martin. Dr jill o'leary and jamie grayson. Who has written about this story. Do look up his brilliant reporting at the guardian dot com in connection with the fire at napier one man. Muhammad ali who is thirty one has appeared in court charged with affray common assault and criminal damage. All of which he denies thirteen other people were arrested and released on bail. We went to the home office for comment on this episode of the spokesperson told us that they did not recognize what they called inaccurate claims they said the government provides safe won't secure accommodation with three nutritious meals served a day all paid for by the taxpayer. These sites have previously accommodated army personnel. And it is wrong to say they are not adequate for asylum seekers. They said that the pandemic had the accommodation system under severe strain because of measures to control and manage the public health risk they added the government has been working tirelessly to secure extra accommodation to ease the pressure on the system and to me start straight obligations to support asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. The ministry of defence gave us permission to use these temporary sites for twelve months and will be discontinued when we are able to do so. The government continues to work closely with accommodation providers charities local authorities police and other partners to ensure that the sites operate safely securely and in line with public health guidelines. That's it for today a big. Thanks for all your reviews and feedback on social media. Do keep them coming. This episode was produced by hanna. More sound design was by nicholas. Alexander the executive producers on jackson and phil may not. We'll be back tomorrow. 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