Asylum seekers housed at Penally military training camp in Wales claim they cannot cope with the conditions.
Refugees who have fled war and persecution, travelling thousands of miles by land and sea to reach the UK say their human rights are being violated due to cramped lodgings, lousy bathrooms, and slow medical attention.
“There is no observance of the Covid safety laws,” one refugee told the BBC who went on to describe tight living conditions that would be familiar to any soldier or Boy Scout. “six men” sleep in a single room, he added.
According to the same individual, the consequences were serious with residents spiralling into a “bad psychological state” leading in some cases to self-harm: “Should I try to hurt myself to get out of here?” The man asked openly.
Asylum seekers are often reluctant to leave the camp, fearing “humiliation, abuse and racism” in sleepy Pembrokeshire.
Another man from Eritrea said refugees were being “treated like prisoners”.
“For the Eritrean community in this camp, the most difficult thing is we escaped from our country from indefinite military service and illegal imprisonment,” he said.
“So, we feel like we are imprisoned in a military camp. It is all coming back to us.”
The Eritrean also complained of “no protection” against Covid and the state of the toilets: “They are filled with tissues, masks, everything you can find, they are blocked, they don’t work.”
In spite of these difficulties, the residents have been able to secure legal representation to put pressure on the authorities to clean up conditions.
They have also enlisted the support of Plaid Cymru lawmakers.
“We are now not only in the middle of winter, but cases of Covid-19 in Wales are rising at an alarming rate,” said Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid’s leader in Westminster.
“I am extremely worried that the conditions at the old military barracks are wholly unsuitable to deal with the cold weather and to facilitate effective social distancing.”
Saville Roberts has contacted David Bolt, the UK’s independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. Bolt has promised an inspection “within a few weeks”.
Chris Philp, the UK’s minister for Immigration Compliance quashed the Saville Roberts concerns.
“We provide asylum seekers in Penally with safe, Covid-compliant and weather-proof accommodation along with free, nutritious meals, all paid for by the taxpayer,” said Philp.
“We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and asylum seekers can contact the 24/7 helpline run by Migrant Help if they have any issues.
“We are fixing our asylum system to make it firm and fair. We will be bringing forward legislation which will stop abuse of the system while ensuring it is compassionate towards those who need our help, welcoming people through safe and legal routes.”