After continued pressure from campaigners and MPs, immigration and prison inspectors are to go into military accommodation which is being used to house asylum seekers.
The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) had previously announced a broader inquiry into the Home Office’s use of hotels and barracks as a contingency accommodation.
The ICIBI has confirmed it will shortly send inspectors to the two former military sites, Napier barracks in Kent and Penally camp in Pembrokeshire, and it has enlisted the assistance of HM Prison Inspectorate.
Charities, healthcare professionals, lawyers and MPs have called for independent scrutiny of the operation of the sites. Napier and Penally, which have held up to 600 men between them since September, and have been dogged by allegations of cover-ups, poor access to healthcare and legal advice, and crowded conditions.
Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, said: “The Home Office has been evasive and dismissive ever since Plaid Cymru began raising questions about Penally in September. I therefore welcome the chief inspector’s decision to conduct inspection visits at the site”.
“While this is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. The next stage will be to secure the closure of the camp and obtain a clear commitment from the Home Office that dated, military-style accommodation has no place in the long term future of the asylum system in Wales.
Founder of the charity Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, which has been assisting the men at the sites, said: “We are pleased to see that inspectors will be visiting the sites themselves, and in particular that they will be talking to the residents so that their voices can be heard”.
“We hope that the findings of this review lead to real change in how asylum seekers are treated by the Home Office. Most critically we want to see the Home Office leading by example and offering protection and care to people who have been terrified and abused”.
The ICIBI said its counterparts in the prison inspectorate offered ‘knowledge and experience of inspecting large institutional settings, particularly during this current pandemic.