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by Bethany Rielly
PRITI PATEL is facing allegations of having misled MPs over coronavirus safety at asylum-seeker accommodation after inspectors found squalid conditions at two sites.
On Monday, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders & Immigration branded Penally camp in Pembrokeshire and Napier Barracks in Kent, where hundreds of asylum-seekers have been held since September, “impoverished,” “run-down” and in some areas “filthy.”
Inspectors accused the Home Office of “fundamental failures” in leadership and planning, with Ms Patel’s department having only given contractors two weeks to prepare the sites.
Their findings back up warnings from Public Health England and Public Health Wales that the accommodation was not fit for use during the pandemic.
The inspectors’ report says that both sites were opened before the Home Office had implemented guidance from health officials, seemingly contradicting Ms Patel’s claims to the home-affairs select committee of MPs that such advice had been followed at all times.
Almost 200 asylum-seekers were infected with Covid-19 during an outbreak at Napier barracks in January.
The select committee’s chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: “The Home Office must immediately publish all the public-health advice they received before deciding to use the barracks and explain why they told the select committee they were operating in line with the guidance when this report is clear that they weren’t.”
Shadow immigration minister Holly Lynch said the Home Office has “seemingly mislead a commons committee.”
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy told the Morning Star that the report shows the Home Office “chose to put asylum seekers at risk” by not implementing PHE’s recommendations.
Referring to the discrepancies between the Home Office's claims and the report's findings on PHE guidance, she added: “It's not the first time a Conservative Home Secretary has misled MPs and the public about what's really going on in their Hostile Environment."
Campaigners have described the report as a “watershed moment” that must lead to the barracks’ closure, with some calling on the Home Secretary to resign.
The Helen Bamber Foundation’s Jennifer Blair said: “These camps need to be closed and the people housed in them need to be moved urgently to safe housing in local communities.”
She said it was disturbing that asylum-seekeers were kept at the sites despite multiple warnings that it was not Covid-safe to do so.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants director Minnie Rahman said: “Priti Patel has proven time and time again that she is not fit for office and she must be removed as secretary of state immediately.”
Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon implored the government to “waste no time in shutting down the barracks.”
“The lessons must be learned from this sorry episode so that it is never repeated,” he said.
Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said: "This is a watershed report and its initial findings are stark. The report makes it clear that these sites are not safe and it's obvious that no one else should be sent there."
Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) spokeswoman Bridget Chapman told the Star: "The report is every bit as damning as we expected. Before Napier Barracks was opened as a site by the Home Office we warned that it was entirely unsuitable to house vulnerable asylum seekers.
"We find it unforgivable that anyone was ever put there and we cannot now see how this failed experiment by the government can continue."
The Home Office claimed that is has met its statutory duty to provide asylum-seekers with suitable accommodation but that it has instructed service providers to make improvements.
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