By Irfan Chowdhury,
HCoS Web Administrator and Researcher

On 15th February, Hastings Community of Sanctuary (HCoS) presented an online event entitled Challenging the Barracks, aimed at raising awareness of the conditions for people seeking asylum at the Napier Barracks in Kent. The event was co-hosted by the HCoS Campaigns Team and Hastings Supports Refugees. Over 60 people attended, a strong indication of the level of concern in our town, a City of Sanctuary, regarding the treatment of people seeking asylum.

Hastings resident Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, began by reporting that conditions in the UK now resemble those in Calais: people at the Napier Barracks have been without proper clothing, food and sanitation, with no possibility of keeping Covid-safe, and almost no medical care. In January, after months of enduring these conditions, many went on hunger strike to protest their treatment. 

Inside the barracks by Anonymous 

In the recent massive coronavirus outbreak at the barracks, Moseley said that the Home Office waited several days to even inform residents that people had tested positive. She emphasised that it is not just the physical health of the residents that is not being catered for; these people are victims of war and persecution and need mental health support.

Jay Kramer, HCoS Campaigns Team Co-Lead, spoke about the appalling track record of Clearsprings, the private company to which the Home Office is paying huge amounts to run the Napier Barracks. Kramer cited a case in 2015 in which Clearsprings had forced people seeking asylum to wear coloured wristbands to identify them as asylum seekers; if they refused, they were not given food. She also cited another case in 2019 in which Clearsprings had housed people seeking asylum in cockroach-infested hostels.

The third speaker was an anonymous former resident at the barracks, ‘Ethan’. He pointed out that the barracks look and feel like a prison, with high fences, and security guards walking around “who always watch you and prevent you from talking to journalists”. Proper hygiene is impossible with only two toilets and two showers per block of 28 people, often blocked and not working. He confirmed Moseley’s description of the lack of mental health support, adding that the military environment gives unbearable flashbacks to those traumatised by war. 

Ethan felt that even prisons would be better because “at least when you’re in prison, you know why you are there”, whereas people at the barracks don’t understand why they are being punished. He explained that people could only leave once a day for two hours and must be back by 10pm; if not, the Home Office and/or the police are alerted. 

During a lively Q&A session, Moseley emphasised that concerned citizens should keep up the pressure. She explained that although the Home Office is now moving people out of the barracks, there are plans to increase the number of residents. She pointed out that activism had successfully forced the government to abandon its planned expansion of the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, which demonstrated that it is possible for people to change things. 

In a final statement, Ethan made the point that the UK could have a proud future of protecting the vulnerable, “if we make it happen”.

For more information visit the HCoS website; to listen to a transcript of the meeting, go to https://tinyurl.com/35rt93b5 using passcode: ^=E^4Su& or to hear a Guardian podcast in which Ethan talks about his experiences, go to https://tinyurl.com/4fy6rzo3


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