Racial segregation and the asylum system: the case of RAF Wethersfield

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Racial segregation and the asylum system: the case of RAF Wethersfield

UK asylum accommodation amounts to “racial segregation”

People of colour are bearing the brunt of shocking conditions in mass asylum accommodation, which amount to racial segregation, our new briefing with Care4Calais says. 

Testimonies from residents, volunteers and employees at RAF Wethersfield, an asylum accommodation site, detail the harrowing conditions in so-called ‘contingency’ asylum accommodation, demonstrating the harm that this form of accommodation causes on people of colour.

Care4Calais’ data demonstrates that the vast majority of people currently living at RAF Wethersfield are people of colour. Of the 1184 people seeking asylum who Care4Calais are currently providing services for, all are from a West Asian or African nationality. 91 (27.8%)  are from Iran,  71 (21.7%) from Afghanistan, 32 (9.8%) from Eritrea. Many of the people who currently reside in RAF Wethersfield are vulnerable - victims of trafficking, torture, and physical violence.

For M, an engineering student from Sudan and resident at RAF Wethersfield, it “is like a prison.” C, another resident at RAF Wethersfield, describes how the extent of the segregation has affected residents’ mental health: 

“Nothing about my life in the UK so far is about freedom. We risk our lives over and over again. This is no way to treat a human being. People are suffering. I have seen people trying to kill themselves by jumping off buildings. One refugee sewed up his own mouth. He told them that he did not want to talk to anyone. That he did not want to eat anything. That he did not want to be here. He did 8 stitches in his own mouth - only then did they transfer him.”

People housed at RAF Wethersfield are separated from the surrounding rural population by barbed wire, guards and ring-fences. We outline how these detention-like conditions amount to a modern form of racial segregation, or “segregation by nationality”. 

According to one Care4Calais volunteer, residents show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: “people tell me that they have flashbacks, sweats, memories, sleep loss because of the camp directly, not because of what they suffered before they got here but as a direct result of the camp”. 

We outline how housing people seeking asylum in detention-like conditions is a racial justice issue, where people of colour are actively being segregated from surrounding populations, and treated as criminals where no criminality exists. As demonstrated in the briefing, the extent of this isolation enables residents at sites like RAF Wethersfield to become targets of racial harassment, and vulnerable to threats from staff members who work in the accommodation.  

Hope Not Hate recorded a rocketing of racist incidents outside of large-scale asylum accommodation in 2022, with the number of these incidents rising to over 253 - an increase of over 100% compared to the previous year. Residents are unable to move freely in and out of the RAF Wethersfield.

A number of legal challenges have been issued against the Government over the use of the site, including one by Care4Calais. In July the cases of four lead claimants, all clients of Care4Calais, will be heard in the High Court. The legal team will seek to highlight the profound harm caused by accommodation at the site, the sense of confinement and isolation experienced by residents, and the physical and mental health impacts it has had on so many people seeking asylum.

Alba Kapoor, Head of Policy at the Runnymede Trust, said:
“These harrowing testimonies are yet more evidence of an asylum system built on racist exclusionary principles. As we evidence in our report, hostile immigration rhetoric and policymaking has racist outcomes. The horrifying conditions at RAF Wethersfield is the clearest example of that. Sites like this must immediately be closed, and people should instead be treated with compassion and care.”

Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais said:
“Next month, the Wethersfield camp will have been in use for a year. We will mark this anniversary in the High Court, where we will be holding the Government to account for the harmful and re-traumatising impact the camp has had on people’s physical and mental health. For ten months now, our volunteers have witnessed the almost daily damage caused to the people accommodated at the site as a result of the Government’s divisive policies of segregation.”

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