Asylum seekers in the UK were housed in “filthy” and “cramped” conditions during the pandemic, which made a large scale Covid outbreak at the site “virtually inevitable”, according to a government report.
The report follows an inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigrations (ICIBI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), of Napier Barracks and Penally, where asylum seekers have been held throughout the pandemic.
The Home Office has been criticised extensively for the conditions at the site, which the inspection found had led to people being housed there feeling depressed and suicidal, as well as putting them in danger of catching Covid-19.
The inspectorates noted serious safeguarding concerns, saying: "There was inadequate support for people who had self-harmed. People at high risk of self-harm were located in a decrepit ‘isolation block’ which we considered unfit for habitation.”
It was previously revealed that 178 asylum seekers contracted Covid while being held at Napier Barracks in January 2021, which the report makes clear was a result of the cramped and unsuitable conditions.
Despite claims from the Home Secretary Priti Patel that the outbreak was caused by asylum seekers “mingling”, the report concluded that, “given the cramped communal conditions and unworkable cohorting at Napier, once one person was infected a large-scale outbreak wasvirtually inevitable.”
‘Unsuitable, unsafe and inappropriate’
Responding to the report, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper, said: “This shocking report from the ICIBI shows just how unsuitable, unsafe and inappropriate this accommodation was for long term accommodation in a pandemic.
“Putting more than 20 people in crowded dormitories as Covid was spreading was highly irresponsible.
“The Home Office told the Home Affairs Committee that they were following public health advice at every stage of the process yet the ICIBI says that both sites were opened before public health recommendations had been actioned.
“How could the Home Office have allowed this to happen?”
‘We have met our statutory duty’
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As the Home Secretary has set out, our asylum system is broken. That is why we will bring forward proposals which are fair but firm.
“During these unprecedented times we have met our statutory duty to provide asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, with suitable accommodation and three meals a day all paid for by the British taxpayer.
“We expect the highest possible standards from our service providers and have instructed them to make improvements at the site.”