Inspection of barracks housing asylum seekers Napier barracks

Government’s Use of Barracks to House Asylum Seekers Criticised, Legal Challenges Mount

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A group of backbench Conservative MP’s that have barracks in their respective constituencies have voiced their concerns about using these facilities to house asylum seekers.

This comes after concerns are growing over the conditions in the barracks themselves in the aftermath of a fire at Napier barracks in Folkstone, Kent. 14 people were arrested and bailed after the incident.

Damian Collins, whose constituency houses Napier, Richard Fuller the MP for North East Bedfordshire where Yarls Wood removal centre is situated and Caroline Nokes, former Conservative immigration minister are among those who have spoken out.

‘Barracks are not a short-term quick fix. They have failed’ Nokes said. She questioned about the wisdom of continuing to pursue the policy when the Home Office are currently faced with multiple legal challenges against it.

‘Better to hold fire until such time as we have seen the outcome. That doesn’t appear to be the Home Office strategy’ Nokes said.

Nokes has recently raised her concerns surrounding the government’s ‘inhumane’ approach to immigration in an interview with the Independent. She slammed the actions of current Home Secretary Priti Patel and immigration minister Chris Philp, saying any commitments to real change at the Home Office after the Windrush report have been ‘torn up, disregarded’ when applied to policies affecting asylum seekers.

‘Barracks are not a short-term quick fix. They have failed’, Nokes said

She had also spoken in opposition to the use of Ministry of Defence land in her constituency to house asylum seekers that she stated had no electricity or water mains and would not provide access to adequate facilities, such as healthcare.

fire at napier barracks
Fire at Napier barracks last Friday [Image: Care4Calais]

Conditions at Napier barracks have caused similar concern and outrage over the conditions that asylum seekers are being kept in. Around 400 people are housed there, with most being 28 to a room. Those kept there have also been subject to a Covid-19 outbreak, with over 100 cases reported.

Multiple letters that have come from the site, written by asylum seekers, have told of the fear they feel over the lack of social distancing, lack of nutritious food and freezing temperatures. Many who have fled conflict and survived torture to reach the UK have spoken of nightmares and flashbacks caused by being housed in the remote army facilities.

In a report by the Guardian, Hamed, an asylum seeker from Yemen described the harm of being held in a military facility. ‘It is hard to describe the effect of being surrounded by security after going through the things I went through.

‘The worst thing in the barracks is the emptiness of waiting, just waiting inside four walls’.

Legal actions have now been started against the new area to house asylum seekers being built on the site of Yarls Wood immigration removal centre, and against the ‘camps’ at Napier and Penally barracks.

Caroline Nokes was immigration minister in Theresa May’s government, from May 2018 – July 2019 [Image: Romney Advertiser]

While individual cases have been allowed by the Home Office to allow people to leave due to poor conditions, these cases are now attempting to pursue wider action against the use of the facilities as a whole. Lawyers argue the Home Office’s actions are unlawful and breach asylum seekers human rights, and in many cases, retraumatising.

The Home Office have responded, stating that residents were ‘staying in safe, Covid-compliant conditions in line with the law.’ They state they are meeting all legal duties and providing for basic needs.

Lawyers argue the Home Office’s actions are unlawful and breach asylum seekers human rights, and in many cases, retraumatising

The immigration minister, Chris Philp, said in response to the legal action being undertaken: ‘These sites were previously used to house military personnel – to suggest they are not good enough for asylum seekers is an insult.’

After the fire at Napier, asylum seekers are still housed at the facility. Charities have said the men held there were hoping to be allowed to leave the site where most have been held for four months. Formal investigations are ongoing, the Home Office have said.

[Header Image: BBC]