UK's planned reception centres spark fears for asylum seekers' health

Medical groups compare proposed accommodation to Greek island camps

FOLKESTONE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13: Asylum seekers currently held inside Napier Barracks on January 13, 2021 in Folkestone, United Kingdom. Over 400 asylum seekers are being kept at Napier Barracks in conditions they claim are 'unsuitable', with some people experiencing mental health issues as well as being vulnerable to health conditions including COVID-19. It has been reported that there has been 'at least two suicide attempts' at the facility in the last week. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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Asylum seekers in Britain will face medical problems in Greek-style camps if ministers continue with their immigration reforms, health workers have said.

A letter from 12 medical groups, including Doctors Without Borders and the British Medical Association, criticised plans for a network of reception centres which could hold up to 8,000 people.

Ministers plan to use the centres, instead of hotels, to hold failed asylum seekers while they await deportation.

They will keep the door open to potential offshore asylum camps, such as those used by Australia.

Health workers said Greece and Australia’s large-scale asylum centres had been linked to mental illness, abuse and limited access to health care.

In their letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, they called for a “kinder, fairer and more effective approach” in which people would be housed in the community.

“This type of large-scale accommodation prevents people from accessing medical care and presents a real risk to public health,” they wrote.

“This type of accommodation is also inappropriate for people seeking asylum, many of whom will have experienced torture, exploitation and abuse, and are at risk of severe psychological distress and re-traumatisation.”

Aid workers on Greek island camps have found acute levels of mental health suffering, Ms Patel was told.

Australia’s offshore centres were linked to physical and sexual abuse, with hundreds of people flown to the mainland for medical treatment.

Britain has previously housed asylum seekers at Napier Barracks, a much-criticised former military site where about 200 people were taken ill by an outbreak of Covid-19.

A report by inspectors found in July that migrants at Napier had not received proper health assessments and that a virus outbreak was virtually inevitable.

Dangerous migrant crossings in the English Channel have thrown the UK's asylum policies into the spotlight. PA

The government says the planned additional centres would provide basic needs and allow appeals to be handled quickly on site.

Potential offshore centres would be set up “if required in the future” and meet the UK’s international obligations, the Home Office says.

The centres are part of a wider package of measures aimed at tightening Britain’s border security after Brexit.

Ms Patel plans to increase prison sentences for people smugglers and those who try to enter the UK illegally.

People who arrive illegally would be eligible for only limited protection status, subject to regular reviews and with few family reunion rights.

Ministers will update MPs on Wednesday on the bill’s progress, after it cleared its first parliamentary hurdle in July.

As well as criticism at home, the government faces accusations from France that a lack of legal asylum routes is encouraging clandestine migration.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight by the tragedy in the English Channel last month, when 27 migrants died while attempting to cross on a flimsy boat.

While France laid the blame with Britain, the UK expressed frustration with Paris that jointly-financed patrols on the French coast were not preventing crossings from happening.

Updated: December 07, 2021, 2:37 PM