Protect asylum seekers in UK: CHRI urges closure of unlawful asylum centre

Protect asylum seekers in UK: CHRI urges closure of unlawful asylum centre

London, June 9 – Demanding immediate action to protect asylum seekers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) today urged the UK Home Office to close the unlawful asylum centre at Napier Barracks in South East England, and bring an end to immigration detention, reminding the government of its international commitments.

“We welcome the UK High Court judgement of June 3, 2021 making clear what was already evident - that conditions for those  detained in Napier Barracks in South East England are unlawful,”  said Joanna Ewart-James, Executive Committee Chair of CHRI’s London office.

In September 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK Home Office detained hundreds of migrants in Napier military barracks in Kent, England, despite prior warning from Public Health England that the accommodation was ‘not suitable’ for use.

“The subpar prison-like conditions within the barracks are entirely unsuitable for the men  to overcome physical and mental health challenges. Instead they are causing welfare issues and  the threat of the rapid spread of COVID-19 is deeply concerning ,” Ms. Ewart-James emphasised. Six asylum-seekers have already challenged their detention as inhumane and unsafe.

The UK High Court found that their accommodation did not meet the 'minimum standards' for reception of asylum seekers, and that the process used for selecting individuals for transfer was sudden and unlawful leading to 'increased risk of the deterioration in the mental health of asylum seekers.’

CHRI also expressed concern that claimants were likely victims of torture and/or human trafficking, as highlighted by The Honourable Mr Justice Linden, and thus more vulnerable to mental health issues.

“Immediate attention must be paid to the judgement of the Court as it has determined substantial 'risks of COVID-19 infection and death or injury from fire’ at the centre. The UK Government must ensure that asylum policies remain human rights compliant and protect those most vulnerable to exploitation, including asylum seekers and migrants. Immigration rules should not be prioritised at the expense of human rights, ” said Sneh Aurora, Director of CHRI’s London office.  

While the High Court decision is a positive step, CHRI recommends five key corrective measures to the UK Government:

  1. Ensure that conditions for asylum seekers and other detainees respect human dignity and provide an adequate standard of living and health, and take steps to end the practice of immigration detention in the UK.
  2. Immediately close Napier Barracks, which do not meet these minimum standards, and release detainees, ensuring that they have access to necessary health and social services.
  3. Provide rehabilitative support to asylum-seekers and migrants detained in the UK. This is especially important for those held in the Napier Barracks in light of their past trauma which may have been triggered due to their unsuitable conditions.
  4. Ensure steps are taken so that victims of human trafficking are identified and protected as required by the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and are immediately released from detention
  5. Ensure that no one is penalised for speaking out about their detention-like living conditions in Napier Barracks, or any other immigration detention facility in the UK.

For further information, contact:

Sneh Aurora, Director, CHRI London Office