Home Office claim that asylum-seeker barracks were Covid-safe ‘difficult to envisage’, say experts

Health experts have cast doubt on Home Office claims that a former Army barracks being used to house asylum seekers is Covid-safe following an outbreak earlier this year.

Nearly 200 people contracted the virus at Napier Barracks in Kent.

In April the Home Office declared the outbreak “over” and insisted asylum seekers were staying in “safe, suitable, Covid-compliant conditions”.

But last week two senior health officials said it was still “difficult to envisage” the site being considered Covid-safe.

Around 270 people were living at the barracks as of last week, the PA news agency understands.

It comes as the Home Office faces renewed calls to shut the site, which has been described as “ghettoised, detention-like accommodation”.

Napier Barracks (pictured) has been used by the Home Office to house hundreds of asylum seekers since September, many of whom had crossed the English Channel aboard small boats.

The site has been dogged by allegations of poor conditions in communal dormitories, with inspectors describing an isolation block as “unfit for habitation”.

In a letter to Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper, dated June 2 and published on Wednesday, health experts raised concerns about the barracks.

The joint message from James Williams, director of public health for Medway Council, and Dr Allison Duggal, interim director of public health for Kent County Council, adds to the pressure on the Home Office to act.

They said: “The sizeable outbreak in the barracks is evidence that the accommodation has not been safe throughout the period of its use.

“KCC Public Health and colleagues from PHE (Public Health England) have worked with Home Office and their contractors to develop plans to improve Covid security and outbreak management plans at the Napier Barracks site.

“The work is ongoing, but it is difficult to envisage that the site can be considered Covid-safe given the proposed numbers of service users for this site.”

They also said they were “disappointed and surprised” that Kent County Council was not consulted before the barracks were confirmed for asylum accommodation in the first place.

They added that the county council had earlier been given assurances that no such accommodation would be set up in the county.

The letter was written the day before six asylum seekers formerly housed at Napier Barracks won a legal challenge against the Government as a High Court judge ruled their accommodation was inadequate.

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais which has supported people inside the barracks, said: “This is yet another example of the Home Office choosing to ignore the very clear evidence it has to hand.

“We are living through a pandemic and social distancing is incredibly important – unless everyone is kept as safe as possible, then the most vulnerable in our communities continue to be at risk.

“People live in dormitories in Napier and it’s hard to see how this can be Covid-safe due to the layout and the sheer number of people housed there. The barracks isn’t suitable accommodation and should be closed as Penally (barracks) has been.”

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