THIRTEEN Church of England bishops have added their names to an open letter demanding that the Government stop housing asylum-seekers in military barracks.
Asylum-seekers have been placed in Ministry of Defence sites, most notably Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, since last summer.
Activists and refugees have long complained, however, that the conditions are poor (Online Comment, 28 January). There have been outbreaks of Covid-19, as well as a fire that, last month, reportedly cut off electricity, heating, and water for the hundreds of asylum-seekers living at the former army barracks.
In the open letter, signed by dozens of Christian leaders, the bishops urge an “immediate end” to the practice of using barracks to house asylum-seekers. “After such a traumatic journey, having had to often spend time behind wire fences in refugee camps, it is simply insensitive to house people in such environments,” the letter argues.
“In a global pandemic it is nothing short of irresponsible and risks the lives of residents and staff alike. Even as a temporary measure, ex-military barracks are unfit for purpose and entirely inappropriate.”
The Church of England bishops who have signed the letter are those of London, Durham, Oxford, Bristol, Gloucester, Southwark, Worcester, Leeds, Croydon, Reading, Bradwell, Dover, and Loughborough.
They are joined by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols; the General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Bob Fyffe; the Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, Derek Estill; the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Richard Teal; and leaders of other denominations.
“Our shared faith as signatories to this letter, leads us to view all human beings as equal and deserving of respect, dignity and welcome,” the letter continues. “When asylum seekers are housed within communities, it allows for better integration and access to support services. Asylum seekers are often no longer seen as ‘other’ but as neighbours and friends.”
The signatories ask the Government to set out a timeline to move all asylum-seekers currently in barracks into accommodation in the community, and to pledge not to expand the use of military sites in the asylum system.
The letter came one day after an inspection of Napier Barracks was announced by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, assisted by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
The inspection was due to take place this week, and would include interviews with residents, assessment of the premises and facilities, and a survey of the staff working at the barracks. A report of the findings will be sent to the Home Secretary and published “in due course”.