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SIX asylum-seekers held at an ex-army camp have launched legal action against the Home Office over conditions at the site, which they claim amounts to “false imprisonment.”
The claimants are seeking to shut down Penally camp in Pembrokeshire, Wales, which was repurposed in September as a facility to house up to 236 men seeking asylum.
They argue that the conditions in the camp, where about 200 men are held in barracks surrounded by barbed wire fences and manned by security guards, constitute “false imprisonment” and a “deprivation of liberty.”
The men’s movements are also restricted by an effective curfew between 10pm to 10am, claims Duncan Lewis solicitors, representing the six asylum-seekers.
The Home Office has insisted that there is no curfew at the site, but residents have reported being advised by guards not to leave during the night due to the presence of far-right activists.
The legal claim, launched earlier this week, also argues that the screening process – to determine whether those being moved to the barracks have vulnerabilities – has been “inadequate.”
The Home Office has argued that the site is suitable for single men with no known vulnerabilities. However, evidence gathered for the legal challenge by the Helen Bamber Foundation suggests that all six claimants have suffered mental trauma from their past experiences.
This has been “aggravated by their accommodation at the camp and their exposure to conditions there,” the statement said.
Jennifer Blair, Head of Legal Protection at the Helen Bamber Foundation, which has been giving support to residents at the camp, told the Morning Star that victims of torture had been moved to the site.
She said the foundation had supported a Yemenis asylum seeker who had been tortured in a paramilitary centre and suspended by his ankles and wrists.
“So in a military context he had been detained and tortured so it was particularly traumatising for him to be moved to a military camp,” she said.
To identify asylum seekers with vulnerabilities before transfer to the camp officials have relied on information in their Home Office files, rather carrying out medical or vulnerability assessments, Ms Blair explained.
In another case, a GP undertook a medical screening of a man being held at the barracks who was suffering from insomnia and suicidal thoughts. He had also been tortured in a military site before arriving in Britain.
“Our clinicians have undertaken screening assessments rather than detailed medico-legal assessments over several days, so this is initial information that people are disclosing upfront at a first appointment,” she continued.
“Sometimes it takes time for a person to feel able to disclose, but here this is information people will share with our clinicians fairly quickly...so this is not top secret information that they are refusing to tell anybody.
If someone had asked them they would know.”“When they say they’re not moving anyone vulnerable there, the key point is that they are not finding out who is vulnerable.”
As well as the military appearance of the camp, the site is also located near a Ministry of Defence (MoD) firing range, where soldiers carry out tank-artillery firing exercises.
Local anti-racist campaigner Patrick Connellan told the Morning Star that the sounds from the firing range are within earshot of Penally camp.
“They find it quite alarming because it brings back terrible memories,” he said. “No-one has talked about this. These men are treated as though they are just animals without any feelings.”
The legal action is the latest to hit the Home Office over its use of former army camps, including Napier barracks in Kent.
Since opening the two sites, the government has faced a series of reports regarding the camps, alleging poor access to healthcare; concerns over safety, hygiene and privacy; barriers to accessing legal advice and the use of confidentiality agreements to gag volunteers.
On Tuesday, 60 organisations called on ministers to end the use of ex-army camps to house asylum-seekers. In a letter to immigration minister Chris Philp detainee support group Avid compared the conditions at the ex-army camps to Britain’s system of indefinite detention.
Avid director Ali McGinley said: “There is no shortage of evidence that Britain’s system of immigration detention does very little other than cause long lasting damage … choosing to ignore this by replicating the worst injustices of this system in the barracks accommodation is irresponsible, dangerous and puts many more people at risk.”
Responding to the legal challenge, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The government takes the wellbeing of asylum-seekers and the communities in which they live extremely seriously.
“We are fulfilling our statutory obligation to support those on the site, including with healthcare.”
“As this is an ongoing legal case it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
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