Government urged to stop using ‘profoundly inappropriate’ Napier Barracks to house asylum seekers
The Government must stop housing asylum seekers in “profoundly inappropriate” military barracks, a group of MPs and peers has said.
The call comes after immigration minister Kevin Foster confirmed the Home Office’s plan to continue to use scandal-hit Napier Barracks in Kent beyond September when its initial one-year contract expires.
The measure was initially billed as a temporary solution for asylum accommodation during the pandemic.
But it is now believed the site – loaned to the Home Office from the Ministry of Defence last year – could be used until 2025.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention, which has been carrying out an inquiry into the use of military barracks to house asylum seekers, published an interim report which it said highlighted the “alarming” conditions reported by those who have lived in the buildings near Folkestone, as well as concerns from the charity and other aid workers who support them.
The findings said witnesses reported “unsanitary, crowded, prison-like” conditions and raised a range of concerns about the welfare of those living there and the support available to them.
APPG chairman Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central, said: “This interim report confirms many of our worst fears about the UK Government’s use of former military barracks as asylum accommodation, and reaffirms that these types of settings are profoundly inappropriate for housing individuals, many of whom are vulnerable.”
Dating back more than 130 years, the ageing Napier Barracks has been dogged by allegations of poor conditions.
An inspection by two independent watchdogs described parts of the barracks as “filthy” and “decrepit”, highlighting “fundamental failures” in housing asylum seekers there.
Six of those previously housed there won a legal challenge against the Government as a High Court judge ruled their accommodation was inadequate.
The Home Office has insisted “significant improvements” have since been made and claimed it would be an “insult” to suggest the site is not fit for asylum seekers as it had been previously used to house military personnel.
Earlier this year almost 200 people at the site contracted coronavirus, leading to accusations that health advice had been ignored.
In April the Home Office declared the outbreak was over and insisted asylum seekers were staying in “safe, suitable, Covid-compliant conditions”.
But in July senior health officials said it was still “difficult to envisage” the site being considered Covid-safe. Last month it emerged more Covid-19 cases had been identified.
Ms Thewliss said there had been “negligible improvements” and accused the Home Office of acting “unconscionably in respect of the duty of care that it has to asylum seekers and refugees at Napier”, adding: “It has ignored advice and guidance from health authorities.
“The Home Office should listen seriously to the concerns of those in their care. They must stop people’s suffering, and end barracks accommodation immediately.”
According to the inquiry, asylum seekers gave evidence in private in light of reports that barracks staff had warned residents that speaking to politicians or the media could negatively affect their claim.
Concerns have also been raised by lawyers about asylum seekers having “scant access” to medial advice and treatment as well as facing difficulties in obtaining legal support.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We disagree with the key findings of this report. During the height of an unprecedented health pandemic, to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was required at extremely short notice.
“We have made significant improvements to the site and continue to work to ensure that residents are safe, secure and their essential needs are met.”
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