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APPG Inquiry into quasi-detention: Watch the first oral evidence session

Friday, July 9th, 2021

Last week on 1st July 2021 the All Party-Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention held the first oral evidence session of its inquiry into the use of “quasi-detention” sites to house asylum seekers, such as Napier Barracks which replicates many of the features found in immigration detention settings.

Read the Evening Standard article about the evidence session here.

 

“people were attempting suicide through cutting themselves and trying to hang themselves. So they went to hospital. But even some of them were then sent back to the camp and not moved out.” – Sue Willman, Deighton Pierce Glynn (top right)

 

Part One: Legal Issues

 

Witnesses:

Clare Jennings – Director and Head of Public Law and Community Care, Mathew Gold & Co. Solicitors

Sonia Lenegan – Legal Director, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association

Shu Shin Luh – Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers

Sue Willman – Solicitor / Consultant, Deighton Pierce Glynn

 

Part Two: Health Issues

 

Witnesses:

Dr Yusuf Cifti – Policy and Advocacy Manager, Doctors of the World

Dr Juliet Cohen – Head of Doctors, Freedom from Torture

Dr Jill O’Leary – GP / Head of Medical Advisory Service, Helen Bamber Foundation

Dr Piyal Sen – Member, Working Group on the Mental Health of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, Royal College of Psychiatrists

 

The APPG Inquiry cross-party panel (members listed below) heard from the witnesses, many of whom have worked directly with asylum seekers housed at the sites to assess the suitability of such sites for accommodating asylum seekers, bearing in mind these people’s potential histories of torture, trafficking and/or other forms of serious trauma, and ongoing health and legal needs.

The panel is gathering written and oral evidence on the topic and will subsequently issue a report with key findings and recommendations.

 

The inquiry panel members are:

 

Alison Thewliss MP (SNP) – APPG chair (right)
Paul Blomfield MP (Labour)
Wendy Chamberlain MP (Liberal Democrat)
Mary Foy MP (Labour)
Richard Fuller MP (Conservative)
Helen Hayes MP (Labour)
Anne McLaughlin MP (SNP)
Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (Labour)
Lord Roberts of Llandudno (Liberal Democrat)
Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Labour)

Some extracts from the evidence session last week:

 

“The decision to process asylum claims in the barracks with no safeguards to ensure proper access to legal advice, then you’re layering on top of an already unlawful, inadequate arrangements, a further risk of further inadequacy. And so the only inference you could really draw from the state of play at the moment is that the Home Secretary simply doesn’t know whether or not the use of the barracks is lawful and can be used lawfully.”

Shu Shin Luh – Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers

“It has appeared to me that the Home Office had been using the judicial review process and lawyers as almost a way of identifying who shouldn’t be in the barracks” ….. “one of my clients was texting us late at night expressing suicidal thoughts and that if we didn’t get him out of there he couldn’t go on.“  Regarding asylum seekers transferred from Napier barracks to Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre for ‘bail accommodation’ …“They felt like they were in prison because that’s exactly exactly where they were. … If a person who approaches the local authority is homeless and out of a homelessness duty, you wouldn’t put them in a prison because it happened to be some spare beds there”

Clare Jennings – Mathew Gold & Co. Solicitors

In relation to the New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill introduced this week … “These plans will include proposals for reception centres to provide basic accommodation while processing the claims of asylum seekers. What is happening in Napier at the moment fits that description … what we seem to have in Napier is a reception centre without any procedural safeguards. A key one would be to ensure that people have access to a lawyer at a sufficiently early stage”

Sonia Lenegan – Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association

“74% of the people we’ve spoken to said that they have a bad or very bad health in general and 70% are diagnosed with psychological conditions” … “we spoke to a man who had begun to experience severe stomach pain, but there was no action for 24 hours by the by the staff members on the site. And after 24 hours, an ambulance was called and the man was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a medical condition which, if untreated, could easily lead to life threatening medical complications. The man was offered surgery, but he refused to take the surgery because he thought that he wouldn’t take care of himself in the recovery stage when he was sent to the barracks”

Dr Yusuf Cifti – Policy and Advocacy Manager, Doctors of the World

“If somebody has to pass the barrier of the nurse in the camp who they see as a state employee, an agent of the state, and the very nature of torture is that it destroys your trust in the state.”

Dr Juliet Cohen –
Freedom from Torture

  “All of them at Napier reported having felt depressed since they arrived there and a third of them said they had felt suicidal” … “the screening processes are not fit for purpose. … we’re not aware of any form of safeguarding provision for mental health”

Dr Jill O’Leary 
Helen Bamber Foundation

“There’s virtually no screening program for identifying mental health vulnerabilities for this group” … “You don’t even have primary mental healthcare” … “healthcare is bordering on nonexistent”

Dr Piyal Sen – Member, Working Group on the Mental Health of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Described “unbelievably inhumane conditions” and an “unacceptable and shameful situation for this group of vulnerable human beings”

Mary Foy MP

“It is very concerning that the UK Government has described asylum seekers being accommodated at the barracks as “not analogous to British Citizens” and that “less generous” support is therefore available to them. We have seen how this has translated into real harm suffered by real people who are vulnerable and have sought safety in this country. 

There is a widely held belief that the barracks are being used as a model on which to base the ‘asylum reception centres’ outlined in the UK Government’s recently published New Plan for Immigration.  The APPG’s inquiry comes at a crucial time, and I believe its findings will speak to the fairer and more just society that many of us want to be.”

Alison Thewliss MP – Chair of the APPG