The temporary accommodation at Yarl’s Wood removal centre will not be used after much criticism.
The Home Office has abandoned controversial plans to house nearly 200 asylum seekers in what campaigners have described as a ‘prison-style’ camp on the site of an immigration removal centre.
Government officials had originally planned to move the asylum seekers into portable buildings adjacent to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire at the end of last year with tents to be erected for preparing and serving food. However, in a significant U-turn, the Home Office is not proceeding with the plans.
The Home Office has faced mounting criticism from lawyers, charities and human rights campaigners regarding the unsuitability of some of its accommodation for vulnerable asylum seekers, who have already fled persecution and in some cases survived torture, and also because of Covid concerns.
The argument over the Yarl’s Wood site followed a series of damning reports on conditions at two former army barracks sites in Kent and Pembrokeshire being used to hold up to 600 asylum seeking men.
Deborah Chittenden, Home Office director of strategy and change, confirmed that the Yarl’s Wood plan was no longer going ahead because there was enough alternative capacity in the system to accommodate asylum seekers.
In a message to the organisations consulted about the Yarl’s Wood plans, she wrote “I am writing to inform you having given the matter careful consideration, the Home Office has decided not to proceed with plans to use the site adjacent to the existing Immigration Removal Centre for temporary accommodation for asylum seekers”.
“As you are aware we worked at pace to stand up the site as part of our winter contingency planning to ensure we had sufficient capacity across the system to meet expected demand. It is now clear that we do not need to use the additional capacity at this location at this time”.
Louise Jackson, Bedford borough councillor said she believed the plans had stalled because the large numbers on the site would not be Covid secure. An outbreak of Covid with more than 120 confirmed cases at Napier barracks in Folkestone, which is being used to accommodate asylum seekers contradicted Home Office claims that the accommodation was Covid secure.
“The Covid management plan put forward by the Home Office was nowhere near sufficient to prevent an outbreak, and I am really pleased that the government have seen sense and withdrawn their proposals for the Yarl’s Wood site”, said Jackson. “I just hope that they won’t try to replicate the Yarl’s Wood asylum camp somewhere else. It’s very hard to see how accommodating people in this manner can ever be made safe in a pandemic”.
MP for Bedford and Kempston, Mohammad Yasin, welcomed the news. He said: “I’m relieved and delighted that following repeated representations from myself and Bedford borough council’s public health team, including Councillor Louise Jackson, the Home Office have been forced to drop their plans to house asylum seekers on the Yarl’s Wood site”.
“It was a terrible idea to house a vulnerable group of people in hostile, inappropriate and unsafe accommodation in the middle of a pandemic using military barracks and camps in remote locations to accommodate asylum seekers, many of whom have survived torture and other forms of persecution before fleeing their home countries. It is a new low for the Home Office and I will be pushing for an explanation for this dramatic change in policy”.
Founder of Care4Calais, Clare Moseley said: “This is a victory for everyone who believes that asylum seekers should be treated with dignity and respect”.
A caseworker at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, Lottie Hume, who had launched a legal challenge against Home Office plans for Yarl’s Wood, welcomed the news. “The plan was rushed through without due care or attention to legal obligations and the discriminatory impacts. It is yet another example of the home secretary’s callous approach of providing substandard accommodation to asylum seekers to appease and inflame anti-migrant opinion”.
Director of Medical Justice, Emma Ginn, said: “The Yarl’s Wood camp was an unconscionable idea, sticking vulnerable people in portacabins in the shadows of a notoriously brutal immigration removal centre had all the hallmarks of a regime that had badly lost its way. We call on the Home Office to do the right thing and now close other dangerous and inappropriate sites such as the Napier and Penally barracks”.
Chris Philp, Home Office minister for immigration compliance, said: “The government has a statutory duty to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. Work is under way to reduce the cost of the asylum system, which is under significant pressure, and we are considering a number of accommodation options while we fix the broken asylum system to make it firmer and fairer”.