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Today, we sent a letter to the Immigration Minister and Shadow Home Secretary highlighting the risks of housing vulnerable asylum-seekers in crowded barracks where social distancing is impossible, and urging them to implement community-based alternatives, to avoid further harm. Our letters were co-signed by more than 60 community organisations working with people in detention or seeking asylum.

Read the letter to the Immigration Minister Chris Philp MP

Read the letter to the Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds MP

We believe that it’s unacceptable to keep people in barracks; the accommodation is not suitable for vulnerable people and over the last few days there have been suicide attempts, hunger strikes and protests about conditions at the Napier Barracks. It is impossible to socially distance when there are as many as 28 people sharing two toilets and up to 14 people sleeping in a room.

The unsuitability of the accommodation is worse for the people being housed in the barracks who are victims of torture at the hands of soldiers or militia. For them, and all those fleeing wars, being kept in a military facility surrounded by barbed wire is proving difficult for their mental health. They are being retraumatised by their surroundings.

Read the article in The Guardian

We have seen the damage done by forcing people to undergo the excruciating and drawn out uncertainty of immigration detention. It is now widely acknowledged and understood that this has a profoundly detrimental impact on people’s mental health. While the barracks are not detention, the consequences for individuals are the same: being isolated and cut off from support networks, without access to legal advice and other specialist help, while being held in wholly inappropriate conditions for an unknown length of time.

In contrast, there is growing evidence that managing people’s cases while they remain in the community with access to support is both less expensive and more effective.

We call on the minister firstly to release everyone from the barracks immediately into safe, supported, community-based alternatives. Then, to engage with civil society and with people experiencing the system to find better solutions.

Ali McGinley, Director of the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees said,

“There is no shortage of evidence that the UK’s system of immigration detention does very little other than cause long lasting damage......choosing to ignore this by replicating the worst injustices of this system in the barracks accommodation is irresponsible, dangerous and puts many more people at risk. We urge the government to use this opportunity to think again about this reactive and risky approach, and to engage with people within the system, and the communities supporting them, to find a safe and supported alternative.”

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