Asylum seeker recalls ‘worst experience of my life’ living in UK barracks

Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent
·3-min read

An asylum seeker who fled gang violence and kidnap in his home country said being housed in military barracks in the UK was like “a really bad dream”.

Eduardo spent more than a month living at Penally camp in Wales, one of two Ministry of Defence sites the Home Office has used to house asylum seekers.

And while Penally is now set to close, it is understood that the controversial use of Napier Barracks in Kent is set to continue.

Later on Friday, people across the country are to come together for a virtual day of action calling for fair treatment of people seeking asylum.

The event is being organised by various charities and organisations, and will feature speeches from several MPs.

People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks
Napier Barracks in Folkestone (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Speaking exclusively to the PA news agency, Eduardo, from El Salvador, spoke of how he was forced to flee his home country after being kidnapped by gangsters.

When he arrived in the UK, he was held in a detention centre before being taken to a hotel, where he stayed for several months.

One day, he was notified that he was being moved to an unknown location and told to get on a bus with 22 others.

He told PA: “It was raining, the wind was blowing a lot, it was a really, really scary situation.

“I was afraid because nobody was explaining what was happening with us.”

He arrived at Penally camp in Wales at around 4am.

“It was the worst experience of my life… when we arrived there it was awful, it was really, really scary.”

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He described Penally as a “really bad dream” and said proper Covid protocols were not in place, with 200 men sharing facilities.

Eduardo has since left Penally, but says he is keen to help others in need, like he was.

Friday’s virtual day of action on asylum seeker welfare will feature speeches from Caroline Nokes MP, Holly Lynch MP, shadow secretary of state for immigration, and Stuart Macdonald MP, shadow spokesperson for home affairs.

The event is being organised by Freedom from Torture, Asylum Matters, Choose Love, Detention Action and Refugee Action, who are campaigning against the Home Office’s policy to house asylum seekers in army barracks during the pandemic.

Kolbassia Haoussou, director of survivor empowerment at Freedom from Torture, said: “After huge pressure from frontline charities and medical experts, we are pleased that the barracks in Penally are closing. But Napier remains open despite the life-threatening conditions inside.

“The way people are housed in this country is about more than providing shelter, it is a reflection of how we treat people who have fled danger and chaos to find safety. It is a reflection of who we are.

“It is time the Government stops playing politics with people’s lives. We need a fair and efficient asylum system that allows those who need sanctuary to rebuild their lives within our communities”.