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We are gravely concerned to hear that the Home Office is using emergency planning regulations to rush through another form of quasi-detention for people seeking asylum, this time on wasteland adjacent to Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

Yarl’s Wood itself has a long and controversial history, and until 2020 was the main detention centre for women. In 2020 its purpose was amended to house people arriving via small boat crossings. We understand that land next to the detention centre will now house people seeking asylum in portacabin accommodation. The same land was the site of a major fire in 2001.

This latest move comes in the wake of mounting evidence that the use of barracks accommodation to house people seeking asylum is creating a crisis of harm. Facilities at Napier and Penally have been criticised for housing vulnerable people in conditions which constitute a major COVID 19 risk. Reports of self-harm, hunger strikes and at least two suicide attempts as well as ‘gagging orders’ on volunteers are just some of the accounts to emerge in recent months.

The move to open another such ‘camp’ in portacabin accommodation – this time in the shadows of one of the UK’s most high profile detention centres – marks another step towards the replication of some of the worst injustices of immigration detention as the Home Office continues to pursue an ad hoc and reactive approach to asylum accommodation.

Many of the people who will be held at this new facility, like those being held in barracks, are extremely vulnerable. The use of detention settings, or military accommodation, to house them, will cause irreparable damage.

AVID has worked with volunteer groups providing support at Yarl’s Wood since it opened. We have seen the harm caused by forcing people to undergo the cruelty of indefinite detention. The consequences of being isolated and cut off from support networks, in substandard accommodation, are long lasting.

Last year, 60+ organisations co-signed our letter to the Immigration Minister highlighting the risks of housing vulnerable asylum-seekers in crowded barracks where social distancing is impossible, and urging the government to implement community-based alternatives, to avoid further harm.

Instead, this latest move seems to fly in the face of these concerns and will put many more people at risk.

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