Around 20 students hold up banners that say 'Close the Barracks' over zoom

23 April 2021

In September 2020, the Home Office started using ex-military barracks in Kent (Napier) and Pembrokeshire (Penally) as accommodation for people seeking asylum. The barracks are ‘impoverished, run-down and unsuitable’ accommodation for people who have fled war, torture, and persecution.

Last month, STAR groups joined a national campaign action to put pressure on the Home Office to #CloseTheBarracks. Students across the UK took to social media to share news stories and experiences of people living in the barracks and to tweet the Home Office and their local MPs to demand an end to detaining people in prison-like conditions.

On 12 March, nearly 100 people (and their placards) joined in solidarity with former barracks residents at our #CloseTheBarracks online rally. Together, we:

  • Listened to the experiences of former residents from Penally and Napier Barracks.
  • Learnt from Samphire about why the government moved people seeking asylum into barracks.
  • Heard about KCL STAR’s conversation club for residents in Napier Barracks.
  • Took part in a national campaign action.

Below is an excerpt from one of our speakers, who was held in Napier Barracks.

What is it like to live in the barracks?

‘I was held in Napier barracks for more than 3 months – the famous ex-army camp, which accommodated more than 400 vulnerable asylum seekers from last September. The prison-like accommodation, completely unhygienic and with fences all around you, made us all suffer physically and mentally.’

‘The area that we were forced to live in was finally pronounced to be “run down, impoverished and filthy” by the Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration – and he is appointed by the Home Office itself. And now, I and other former residents of Napier barracks are dealing with insomnia and anxiety as the ongoing impacts of the trauma we experienced there.’

‘Every one of us who lived in Napier barracks are not the same people we used to be before going there. It was unbelievable for us to be treated in that way in a free and democratic country like the United Kingdom. It was really shocking to be called ‘criminals’, ‘invaders’ and ‘illegals’ when we have not committed any crime whatsoever.’

‘Many asylum seekers have to flee their country with no previous plans due to fear of torture and losing their lives. Desperate people do desperate things and risking your life to seek asylum in another country through dangerous ways of entering that country does not make anyone less genuine asylum seeker.’

You can read more about Erfan’s story in The Guardian. For the full written text, contact students

Why should students take action to close the barracks?

Yasmin, President of Queen Mary University of London STAR group shares why closing the barracks is important to her, and how students can make a huge impact in campaigning together.

‘In the case of the barracks I felt strongly that this was an issue which was extremely overlooked by the media, and I am certain that if more people were aware of the atrocities of the barracks, they would have already been closed down. This event was extremely important in helping to raise awareness of the realities of these barracks, which some people, and particularly students, seemed not to be aware of.’

‘It was an extremely joyous moment at the end of the event to have everyone raise their placards, which they had made, in unity against the atrocities of the barracks. It really symbolised to me just what an impact students can have if they join together to campaign on change. Closing the barracks is so important to our STAR group because we feel that more students need to be aware of what is going on.’

Take action

Following the rally, we encouraged STAR groups to contact their MP for the joint day of action to #CloseTheBarracks with Choose Love, Freedom From Torture, Asylum Matters and other organisations. After consistent pressure from the public, MPs, and organisations working to welcome refugees, it was announced that Penally Barracks would be closed.

While this is a step in the right direction, Napier Barracks remains open and more residents are moving in. We must continue to put pressure on the Home Office to close Napier Barracks and commit to housing people seeking asylum in communities.

To take action, contact your MP and urge them to tell the Home Office to #CloseTheBarracks.

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