by Eric Segal
The dilapidated Napier Barracks in Folkestone became the home of 400 asylum-seekers some five months ago. They are desperate people, in fear for their lives, fleeing war and terror and recovering from the perilous cross-Channel journey in small boats. They are now caught up in a whirlwind of uncertainty caused by Covid and Home Office incompetence, and many have still not had their asylum claims processed.
Jennifer Blair, of the respected Helen Bamber Foundation, said: “Doctors from our charity have assessed camp residents and are seeing a deterioration in people’s health and welfare. The longer people are kept in these conditions, the more desperate they are becoming.”
The situation quickly deteriorated in the camp with an outbreak of Covid there. A hundred asylum-seekers who tested negative for Covid were removed, leaving 180 behind, together with the 120 who tested positive, and they were then told to isolate for a further 10 days. Those remaining in the camp with a negative test fear that they are unable to self-isolate because they are forced to remain in close proximity to each other in the cramped barracks, where residents have to share dormitories.
The despair and anger erupted at the camp on Friday, causing a major incident at the camp. Three fire engines were called to put out a fire in one of the dilapidated blocks, police — in huge numbers — blocked the roads leading to and from the barracks, and ambulances backed up the emergency services. I was threatened with a Covid fine by the police as I was trying to report on the desperate situation developing.
The crisis of asylum has been compounded by the recent government plans to end the Dubs agreement to take unaccompanied child asylum-seekers. This is undoubtably due to pressure from local councils such as Kent County Council, which have responsibility for the initial care of handfuls of unaccompanied child asylum-seekers arriving in the UK.
We say: take the contract for housing asylum-seekers out of the hands of private profiteering landlords such as Clearsprings, which runs the Napier site, and we call for the resignation of Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Everyone must counter the attempts of racists and the far right to exploit the issue of asylum-seekers and raise the demand for jobs, homes and services, not racism. Defend the right to asylum.
Article appears in the Socialist: socialistparty.org.uk/
Eric adds: “I took a video of the beginning of the incident. I was covering this for the Socialist Paper. I was warned by the police that if I did not leave that I would receive a Covid penalty. The public are entitled to the truth and if its from citizen reporters we should not be threatened with criminal sanctions for providing the public with information. News gatherers are key workers and it is their role and duty to report on matters of public interest. The police should not be seeking to interfere, prevent or restrict what journalists record in this way.”
Also see this article in the Independent: ‘It’s censorship’: Journalist arrested after photographing protest outside controversial asylum camp
Eric Segal has been an active trade unionist and socialist since leaving school at 15 to become an apprentice.
Eric was instrumental in building a strong union base for the Refugee Legal Centre, where he worked for 10 years. After a bitter fight, it was forced to close due to cuts in funding by successive governments.
Eric is proud to have helped build the campaign to try to elect Robbie Segal, a Marxist, as general secretary of the shopworkers’ union Usdaw that resulted in her gaining over 40 per cent of the vote. He continues to represent Unite the Union members in his capacity as an accredited support companion.
He joined the Labour Party as a socialist, and as youth officer he built an active, combative Labour Party Young Socialists branch in Folkestone. He joined Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party in the 1970s, and was expelled from the Labour Party some 30 years ago. Eric served as secretary of the Kent Anti-Poll Tax Federation and was jailed for non-payment of the poll tax. He continues to be an active member of the Socialist Party.
Eric was also active in building the local trades union council in Folkestone and is the secretary of the campaigning, fighting South East Kent TUC.
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