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Asylum Matters – Y&H Update: fortnightly developments on COVID-19 and asylum 16th March 2021

  1. Ongoing advocacy

Urgent Action! – #CloseTheBarracks Day of Action Friday 19th March
Alongside our friends at Refugee Action, Freedom from Torture, Detention Action, and Choose Love, we’re planning a day of action on asylum accommodation this Friday 19th March.

Throughout the day, people and organisations across the UK will meet with their MPs to call for urgent action to improve asylum accommodation. We’re also holding a mass online rally with brilliant speakers and will be making lots of noise on social media to make sure the Government hears our collective voice!

Yesterday, we heard the good news that the Home Office is planning to close Penally barracks. However, The Times also reported that the Home Office is now planning to create new purpose built “reception centres” to house people seeking asylum who have arrived in the UK via channel crossings, and Napier barracks remains in use.

Right now, we’re at a critical juncture and we must keep up the pressure. The Government must #ClosetheBarracks and commit to accommodating people in safe and dignified homes that enable them to live as part of the wider community. You can read more about our calls for change here.

How to get involved in the Day of Action! You can still write to your MP and ask them to meet with you on the 19th March or later, but there are also loads of other ways for people to get involved in the Day of Action, either as individual activists or as organisations:

  • Sign up for the #CloseTheBarracks rally:The rally will be held 13:00 – 14:00 on Friday 19th March. We’ll hear from experts by experience who have lived in institutional accommodation, as well as cross-party MPs including Holly Lynch, Stuart McDonald and Caroline Nokes, before opening the floor for an interactive Q&A session. Sign up for the rally here!
  • Amplify the action on social mediaIn the run up to the Day of Action, please amplify and share these unbranded social media contentand draft posts which you can use to spread the word and encourage your followers and supporters to get involved. Refugee Action has also created this video, which you can share. Make sure to use the hashtag #CloseTheBarracks !
  • Making some (online) noise on the 19th March:On the Day of Action itself, we’re encouraging partners to amplify the Day of Action on social media by downloading and sharing one of these images together with a draft message of support:

Today we’re supporting the Day of Action to #CloseTheBarracks.

 We are calling on @pritipatel to:

1️⃣ #CloseTheBarracks

2️⃣ House asylum seekers in communities

3️⃣ Commit to a vision of a fair asylum system

@FreefromTorture @chooselove @RefugeeAction @AsylumMatters @DetentionAction

We’re also encouraging organisations who agree with our calls for safe accommodation to amplify the action on the 19th March by temporarily changing their Twitter banner to this image!

Get in touch with Jen – [email protected] – if you’ve managed to arrange a meeting with your MP as part of the Day of Action, or if you have any questions about the above. We hope to see you on Friday!

Other developments in accommodation

Further reports have emerged that prior to moving people seeking asylum into Penally and Napier barracks, the Home Office had received reports from local health services warning them about the potential “risk” to house people in shared dormitories during a pandemic.

Contrary to ministerial statements which claim the sites are safe and fit for purpose, these reports from September 2020 describe the military barracks as in “a poor state of repair” and “run down” condition. In the case of Penally, they also confirm that parts of the site were never used by the military during the winter “due to the challenges heating them.” You can read the full report on these documents in this long read from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

A former resident of Napier barracks has written this powerful letter to the people of the UK, reflecting on his experiences of being housed in the former military barracks. He concludes: “I hear politicians repeatedly saying that the United Kingdom has a proud history of protecting the vulnerable people, but the question is; will the United Kingdom have a proud future of protecting those who are in need?”

In relation to other contingency accommodation sites, following a court case last week, the Home Office has agreed to write to accommodation providers and hotel residents informing them that there should be no curfews imposed on people seeking asylum living in hotels

Welsh Refugee Coalition manifesto

The Welsh Refugee Coalition has published its manifesto for the 2021 Senedd election, Nation of Sanctuary — making the vision a reality. The manifesto is available online in English and Welsh here.

The manifesto sets out the steps the next Welsh Government needs to take across devolved areas including health, education, transport and housing to make the vision of Wales as a Nation of Sanctuary a reality.

Vaccine for all campaign

The Vaccine for All campaign have now created a briefing document about why they launched the Vaccines for All campaign, and are still collecting organisational signatories via the Vaccines for All website (at

They are still gathering evidence of people who have not been able to access the vaccine, whether this is because they are unable to register with a GP, or because of fears & concerns around data sharing and the Hostile Environment more broadly; or being asked to provide ID when getting vaccinated. If you know of examples of this happening please do get in touch with the campaign directly.

2. Research and reports

Further research reveals digital poverty amongst people seeking asylum
The latest in a series of evidence notes from Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Lloyds Bank Foundation, The Children’s Society and Turn2Us has highlighted that refugees and people seeking asylum are disproportionately affected by digital exclusion.
You can read the full evidence note here.

3. Home Office and Government developments
ICIBI and HMIP interim report on Napier and Penally barracks
On the 8th March, the Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) published interim findings from its visits to both Napier and Penally barracks in February and March 2021. This damning report found that:

In September/October 2020, Public Health England and Public Health Wales advised the Home Office that opening dormitory style accommodation was not supported by current public health guidance;
The Home Office did not exercise adequate oversight at either site and Home Office staff were rarely present. The ICIBI felt that there were fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office.
The vast majority of people living in the barracks said they had felt depressed at some point, and a third of respondents said they had mental health problems. At Napier barracks, roughly a third of residents said they had felt suicidal.

There was plenty of news coverage of this report, including these pieces on the BBCthe Independent, and the Financial Times.

Detailed findings from the visits will form part of the ICIBI’s full inspection into contingency accommodation. Whilst the public ‘call for evidence’ has now closed, the ICIBI is still happy to receive evidence about contingency accommodation for the purposes of the inquiry. You can find relevant contact details for the inspectorate online here.

Sovereign Borders Bill
We understand that further information about new legislative and administrative proposals to ‘reform’ the asylum system will be announced by the UK Government imminently. Just today, a news report in The Times revealed that part of these plans will include creating new purpose built “reception centres” to house people seeking asylum who have arrived in the UK via channel crossings.

We will be back in touch once further information is published, including any details of a consultation process, and ways that that partners can get involved.

4. Resources, events, jobs and training

Translated Guidance on the Coronavirus Vaccine

Doctors of the World, in partnership with the British Red Cross, has also produced translated coronavirus vaccine guidance for migrant and other excluded communities in England, Scotland, and Wales, to ensure that everyone can access essential information about the coronavirus vaccines. You can find the translated information here.

RefuAid are looking to support more nurses from a refugee background into work in the NHS. They are working closely with NHS Trusts to train overseas qualified nurses with refugee status, allowing them to requalify, register with the NMC and access meaningful employment within the NHS. If you are a refugee nurse looking to return to practice in the UK, or if you know anyone who is, you can find more information here.

SYMAAG Talk for Change #2: Asylum Seekers Right to Work- 25th March

As part of their Talks for Change series, SYMAAG are hosting an event on Thursday 25th March 7-8.30pm on the right to work. This is a fantastic opportunity to hear testimonies from people who have been denied the right to work, to hear about research on the subject from Lucy Mayblin (Uni of Sheffield) and to learn from the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland about their successful campaign for the right to work in Ireland. You can book your place here.

City of Sanctuary NRPF event- 30th March
The City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network is holding its first Thematic Network Meeting to discuss No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). The meeting will include a panel, chaired by NACCOM, which will share good practice collaborations between Local Authorities and the third sector. You can find more information and register for the event here.

#SistersNotStrangers on International Women’s Day

The #SistersNotStrangers coalition is holding an event on March 25th to mark International Women’s Day. The coalition was launched last spring to campaign against destitution and other hostile asylum and immigration policies, and is the first nationwide coalition led by refugee women for refugee women.

You can find more information and register for the event here.

Right to Remain

Right to Remain have launched a brand new online resource for young people navigating the asylum system. You can access the guide in full here.

Job opportunities

  • IMiX are recruiting for a Regional Communications Coordinator (North East)to work across the North East to support the refugee and migration sector to reach new audiences with positive stories of change. Deadline March 17.
  • IMiX are also recruiting for a Digital Communications Officerto work with the IMIX team to improve digital communications while supporting the refugee and migration sector to reach new audiences with positive stories of change. Deadline March 17.
  • City of Sanctuary UK is advertising for a Consultantto help develop their work on a Maternity Stream. Deadline March 26.
  • ASSIST Sheffield are looking for an Executive Director.Deadline March 24.

What we’ve been listening to… 

Check out yesterday’s File on Four episode, which hears directly from people seeking asylum about the problems they’ve faced in asylum accommodation. Well done to all local partners who contributed to this powerful and pertinent investigative piece.


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