Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi urged to back better treatment of asylum seekers
Outrage at the way asylum seekers are being treated has spurred a Stratford resident to launch a campaign demanding action.
Lauren Powdrell, 20, has been incensed by the plight of refugees being held at former army barracks in Pembrokeshire and Kent.
The two camps, which house up to 600 residents each, have been criticised by the residents and charities for being unhygienic and cramped. Public Health England previously warned the government that the accommodation was not of a suitable standard.
She told the Herald: “Currently, men seeking asylum are being housed in the Napier Barracks and Penally Camp where it is impossible to self-isolate and is a detention centre in all but name. These men have escaped torture, slavery, rape as well as many other unimaginable horrors – they are not criminals as the Home Office seems to be treating them. Raising awareness of this is paramount for closing the accommodation as soon as possible.”
As part of her campaign Lauren has made a video featuring some of the facts about the camps, including how Covid is widespread at both, promoted a national petition calling for better care of asylum seekers and formed local group Reform for Refugees.
“As an ex sixth-form student of KES, I wanted to harness voices from the area to raise awareness of this cause,” explained Lauren. “So the video was intended to present facts about the Napier Barracks, and encourage local people to sign the petition to close the accommodation. I hope that the local initiative supports the national charity movement to close the barracks.
Lauren says she is also concerned children in EU refugee camps who do not already have relatives in the UK will no longer be given sanctuary by Britain after Brexit.
She noted: “I believe this is another complete failure to act according to some sense of morality. Denying children a safe passage to the UK is a deep stain on the government’s claims to humanity.”
Student Lauren, who is studying at Durham University but is living in Stratford during lockdown, said that although these are national issues she believes local grassroots support is crucial and has been in discussion with Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi.
She said: “I strongly believe that the UK’s treatment of people seeking asylum and refugees goes beyond politics – it is about basic human morals. I think that local pressure on the MP is important for feeding opinions to the government, regardless of our political differences.”
While he said he understood concerns over the camps Mr Zahawi defended the government’s approach, he told the Herald: "The Home Office is required by law to provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with accommodation, paid for by the taxpayer. Since March, the number of people within the asylum system has risen. This is because the government temporarily stopped ending asylum support for those whose claims have been granted or refused. This was necessary to help stop the spread of coronavirus and ensure social distancing guidelines could be followed. It was therefore necessary for the Government to act quickly to source contingency accommodation in order to create additional capacity and ensure its obligations were met in full.”
He continued: "The government provides safe, warm and secure accommodation with three nutritious meals served a day, all paid for by the taxpayer. Napier has previously accommodated army personnel. Those accommodated at these sites also have access to appropriate medical care and have access to the 24/7 Migrant Help helpline to raise any issues.
In conclusion he said: "I welcome the action taken by the Government to ensure the UK continues to meet its obligations and commitments to the most vulnerable people. This is of course in the context of unprecedented domestic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic."
Responding to the Mr Zahawi’s statements, Lauren said: “It is frustrating because he repeatedly claims that the UK has a ‘firm track record’ but the Napier Barracks are such a clear example of the opposite.”