Campaigners say figures for last two years underestimate the true situation at barracks and hotels
The Home Office has recorded 70 racist incidents by far-right supporters against asylum seekers in barracks and hotel accommodation, according to a freedom of information response obtained by the Guardian.
However, campaigners supporting asylum seekers in such accommodation say the figure is a significant underestimation of the true picture.
The data, which covers 1 January 2020 until 13 July this year, involves incidents in the much-maligned Napier and Penally barracks – which have been under intense scrutiny by MPs after their untenable conditions were revealed, as well as a large-scale Covid
outbreak in the former.
Penally barracks in Pembrokeshire, Wales, was closed in March – despite only being opened in September 2020 – along with Napier, in Folkestone, Kent. Hotels have been used throughout the period but their use for asylum seekers increased sharply after the start of the Covid
pandemic in March 2020.
In Napier barracks, four incidents were recorded between September and December 2020 – with 12 occurring so far this year. This is despite the barracks being temporarily emptied in April after the coronavirus outbreak. There are now thought to be 176 asylum seekers living there.
Just one incident at Penally barracks was reported to the Home Office last year and none in 2021. However, witness statements from legal challenges by asylum seekers living there reveal a catalogue of disturbing episodes, including an attempt to ram a refugee with a car. Others include: stones and bottles being thrown, rape threats, attempts to start fights, fireworks shot through the gate, and eggings. According to witness statements, a farm shop in the area said some of the far-right supporters had asked to buy pigeon scarers to mimic the sound of gun fire and frighten the asylum seekers.
The number of incidents recorded in hotels has tripled this year, with 40 examples reported, up from 13 last year.
On Saturday 7 August, the far-right organisation Britain First posted a video on its website headlined “Britain First exposes an illegal immigrant hotel in Hull” in which members of the organisation say they posed as journalists to confront asylum seekers.
One asylum seeker from Yemen experienced two incidents involving far-right protesters at his Home Office-provided hotel on the outskirts of London.
“They were driving around the hotel recording us on video,” he said. “They were insulting us, swearing at us and screaming things like ‘go out from our country, why are you eating our food, go away from us, you are strangers here’. We were too scared to go outside the hotel and felt like it was a prison we had to stay inside.”
He added: “We fled countries where there is a lot of torture and persecution and felt safe when we arrived here. But when we saw this kind of racist attack, we felt we were not protected.”
Maddie Harris, of Humans for Rights Network, said: “Ghettoising people seeking safety in large-scale accommodations such as hotels and army barracks exposes them to harm. The figures shown here are not an accurate representation of the level of racial abuse endured by the people we support. We have had numerous conversations with asylum seekers where they have told us how unsafe they feel due to frequent incidents of racial abuse that they have experienced in and around these accommodations.”
Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, said: “Targeting vulnerable asylum seekers is an act of extreme cowardice. Our government must support people seeking asylum to integrate into our communities rather than putting them in places like Napier barracks or large hotels.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable for anyone in asylum accommodation to experience hostile or racist incidents and we ensure each incident is thoroughly investigated. We work closely with a range of organisations to ensure immediate support and assistance is provided to people living in the accommodation and if needed escalate to law enforcement.”