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Hundreds of asylum seekers continue to suffer harm due to being housed at former military base in Wethersfield, Essex


Helen Bamber Foundation and Humans for Rights Network publish follow-up to December 2023 report and find little has changed

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A new report by the Helen Bamber Foundation (HBF) and the Humans for Rights Network (HFRN) highlights the ongoing harm caused by the use of the former RAF base in Wethersfield as accommodation for asylum seekers.

Report coverThe 19-page report can be read here.

It follows on from an earlier December report by HBF and HFRN, which found that asylum seekers suffer significant and irreparable harm due to being housed at the prison-like Wethersfield in Essex.

Last month, a report by Doctors of the World (DOTW) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) detailed a mental health crisis among asylum seekers at the former RAF base and called for it to be immediately closed.

Around 580 male asylum seekers are living at the site, according to DOTW and MSF.

In their new report, HBF and HFRN find that the Home Office has continued to move more people into Wethersfield and has not responded appropriately to the increasing number of men at the site who are suffering acute psychological distress.

HBF and HFRN said: "This follow up report shows that very little has changed in Wethersfield. Now, increasing numbers of men are reporting suicidal ideation, incidents of self-harm, and suicide attempts – according to Home Office data, in the first three months of 2024 there were 30 recorded occurrences of men self-harming, attempting suicide, or at serious risk of doing so ('no suicide attempts were recorded for 2023'). In that period, there were a further 91 recorded occurrences of men in Wethersfield expressing that they were considering suicide or self-harm, and over 160 safeguarding referrals made regarding suicide and self-harm."

According to HBF and HFRN, the Home Office's amended policy on the allocation of asylum accommodation makes it much harder to move vulnerable people out of Wethersfield, contributing to a mass deterioration in the mental and physical health of hundreds of men.

The report states: "HFRN has spoken to over 300 men either in person or during phone appointments. Almost every individual spoken to has expressed some form of mental distress. Overwhelmingly, men in Wethersfield express that either the conditions themselves are causing a deterioration in their mental health or that the isolation and treatment they experience in Wethersfield are re-traumatising for them as they have endured some form of arbitrary detention or acute mistreatment in their country of origin or during their journey to the UK."

Since HBF and HFRN's December 2023 report, hundreds of asylum seekers housed at Wethersfield have said that conditions at the site have deteriorated.

"Incidents of fighting have increased significantly in recent months, as numbers have increased and overcrowding becomes more of a problem, coupled with the fact that many of the men have by this point been held in Wethersfield for a long time, with no clarity on when they will leave. The police have to attend Wethersfield to break up fights, while the guards are reported to be aggressive and abusive, something that some residents have reported makes them feel anxious and reminds them of ill-treatment by the authorities in their own country. Because they feel intimidated, many residents stay in their rooms as much as possible. A growing number of men are so terrified to leave their rooms that they are not accessing food," the report notes.

Uncertainty over the men's asylum claims due to the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is also contributing to their anxiety. HBF and HFRN understand that no legal advice surgeries are being provided to asylum seekers in Wethersfield.

The report explains: "For all of those HBF and HFRN have worked with in Wethersfield it has been unclear when their claims would be processed due to the uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the Rwanda removals scheme. In contrast with formal detention, where detainees should have access to legal advice via the Detained Duty Advice Scheme (notwithstanding its current limitations), it is our understanding that there has been no legal advice surgery made available in Wethersfield, and to date no resident has had their substantive asylum interview. This ongoing uncertainty leads to the sense of indefinite internment, further fostering the 'detention-like' atmosphere."

HBF and HFRN make a number of recommendations in their report, and they say that, ultimately, all 'large scale' accommodation centres on ex-military sites such as Wethersfield should be closed.