Speaking from the Heart about Napier Barracks
On 15th February, HCoS Campaigns Team and Hastings Supports Refugees co-hosted an online event to inform interested participants about the circumstances and conditions surrounding the use of Napier Barracks in Folkstone. Over 60 people attended; you can follow up here, and read our report of that event here (Challenging the Barracks, p6). You can also watch the recording of the event here, using the Passcode ^=E^4Su&
Our three speakers were Clare Moseley the founder of Care4Calais, Jay Kramer of our Campaigns Team, and Erfan – a former resident held in Napier Barracks for nearly 6 months, and who was one of the nearly 200 people who contracted Covid in the massive outbreak in the barracks in January.
Erfan has written a powerful letter to the People of the UK. We are honoured to share it here.
A Letter to the People of the UK
Dear People of the UK,
You may know me from the letters which were written on behalf of the Napier barracks residents. I am now outside of the camp and cannot talk on behalf of my other friends. However, I personally would like to say a few important things about what I have seen and learnt during my stay at Napier Barracks and the United Kingdom.
I was moved to Napier Barracks in October 2020. Being in an unhygienic, prison-like place with so many people from different backgrounds and traumatic experiences living with each other, can affect anyone mentally. Moreover, by sharing a block with 28 people each and 2 toilets and showers in total, it is obvious your physical health can also deteriorate from Covid-19 and any other kind of contagious diseases.
400 people had to share their dining room and bedrooms together, which subsequently made half of the population become infected with Covid-19. Apart from the effect on their physical health, vulnerable people who fled war and persecution had to bear the prison-like atmosphere of the camp. Victims of torture, hostility and aggression had no mental support or access to a specialist or someone who at least is trained to deal with vulnerable asylum seekers. One nurse on site was for sure not adequate for all the 400 residents, and asylum seekers were relying on painkillers to calm their dental pains and any other pain.
The lack of information has also been a great cause of frustration. No one knows for how long you are going to be there. And when you will receive an update about your asylum process.
Our complaints have always fallen on deaf ears. Several peaceful protests, one hunger strike and so many suicidal attempts were not important enough to catch the Home Office’s attention. Over time, residents became more and more depressed and distressed. Everyone lost their motivation to socialise with one another.
I was tested positive with more than 170 other residents in January. No one checked on me to ask if I am alright or if I need any medication. Isolation was impossible and people were not able to ask for vitamins or anything that can help them to improve their immune system. I had severe pain in my chest, ribs and head for a week. Having fever, shivering at nights and being fatigued and completely energyless were other symptoms that I experienced.
The fire made the conditions even worse, with two full days and nights without power, heating and hot water. The conditions were so unbearable that everyone was suffering. Sleeping in your cold and dark bedroom for two nights was agony.
Two weeks before the inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration took place, I and many other residents were moved out, including those who spoke English. There are currently fewer than 50 residents still there, who remain in limbo, feeling increasingly hopeless.
It seems that the attitude that asylum seekers are currently experiencing in the UK is due to some politicians’ view of immigrants which are either ignorant or discriminative. They are spreading misinformation across the country to their citizens, students and children. I would like to raise some points about their statements.
Firstly, there is no such a thing as an ‘illegal immigrant’. When your life is in danger, you cannot just go to an embassy or sit behind your laptop and apply for a visa – which is almost impossible to get for non-privileged European citizens – and then simply book a flight ticket and come to the UK. You have no other choice but to leave everything behind and go to another country which can protect you.
However, there are also people who came to the UK to study, to visit their family members or to work and then faced problems in their own country, which made them unable to go back; and then they had to claim asylum, as persecution and punishment, and in many cases, torture, would be an expected consequence for them on their arrival back in their country. Some people also do manage to apply for a visa as they have a different economic status or have enough time to flee. I have seen so many asylum seekers in the camp who came to the UK with a visa and not by boats: we all suffered from the same vile and hostile policies.
Although the UK is one of the European countries which hosts asylum seekers, the numbers are not that remarkable in comparison to other countries in Europe. While Germany and France receive more than 100K asylum applications, Greece and Spain more than 70K, the United Kingdom received 29,456 asylum applications last year (an 18% drop from the previous year). Yet this is being discussed as if this country is having a migration crisis and the asylum system is broken. I think the UK could learn from other European countries which are hosting much larger populations of asylum seekers, about how to handle so many asylum applications; and also, about avoiding significant problems about how the asylum seekers are treated or how their asylum accommodation is. But it is of course cheaper for the government to follow the Australian approach which is condemned by all international bodies as being completely inhumane.
People seeking asylum, like all the members of a community, will contribute to the society that gave them safety, freedom and refuge. Some of them may become a professor at a Scottish university; some of them will study and choose to have a professional, insightful career and choose to contribute to the society and economy. Discriminating against them and making them suffer will subsequently affect the next generation of this country. Words do matter. Asylum seekers are not invaders, criminals, savages or ‘illegals’. They are humans like you, but with a different background. They did not have the privilege to be born in a safe, free and democratic country and when you have it for free, with no effort – just by the place you were born in – it is easy to blame them for the things that they have not been responsible for.
It is truly shocking, that now in 2021, in a country like the UK that the government is promoting the xenophobic and racist side of its country which is surely not the majority of the people’s way of thinking: a country, in which 50% of its capital’s population is not originally British. Just imagine how this kind of attitude from the Home Office, the propaganda of Nigel Farage and Britain First can affect the people who are originally immigrant, and how their safety and rights will be preserved, after such spreading of hatred and bias.
By making these points, I want to urge everyone to be sensitive about what has been happening to the asylum seekers now. It is not just about the people seeking asylum, it is about how the politicians think about immigrants. When it comes to disrespecting a human’s dignity and decency, everyone must know that there is no end to it, and that others can be next. Because this view of immigrants is not about seeing you as a human. It is about the passport you hold, the language you speak, the religion you practise and your hair and skin colour. It is about being in a hierarchy, and if you are not already, you are going to be the next victim sooner or later.
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? Will the students and children of this country be proud or ashamed by what has been happening now?