The Home Office is under renewed pressure to close one, if not both, of two controversial ‘migrant camps’ it set up in September last year amid widespread condemnation of its disregard for the safety of the asylum seekers within them. Concerns over costs associated with the camps are also growing.
Up until last week, the Home Office had maintained that both camps complied with national Covid-19 safety guidelines despite multiple concerns raised by visiting charities. It had also claimed that both camps were for temporary use only.
But evidence last week revealed that an NHS inspection in late January had informed the Home Office that one of the camps, called Napier Barracks, was ‘unsafe.’
Following a Freedom of information request from Shadow Immigration Minister Holly Lynch, shared with several papers, an NHS report revealed that an inspection of the Kent-based camp was carried out by the NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). It highlighted that not only were infections occurring, but that lack of social distancing made a mass outbreak likely.
Not only were infections occurring, but that lack of social distancing made a mass outbreak likely
The inspection took place on 20 January, only a week after asylum seekers had anonymously told media outlets that coronavirus cases had occurred, and they were terrified of a mass outbreak given the impossibility of self-isolating. Protests over these fears had become frequent.
The report showed that 137 people in the barracks had confirmed cases of the virus, including nine staff members. The infected cases were spread throughout each block of the barracks, contrary to Public Health England’s self-isolation advice.
The inspectors also learned that there were clinically vulnerable asylum seekers at the camp with leukaemia and TB
Disturbingly, the inspectors also learned that there were clinically vulnerable asylum seekers at the camp with leukaemia and TB.
The implications of the report are damning for the Home Office which had sought to blame the asylum seekers for the outbreak, accusing them of disregarding social-distancing instructions.
The inspection shortly preceded the relocation of a number of asylum seekers, and many more were moved after a fire at the camp two weeks later. As of last week, around 350 of the 400 asylum seekers there had been moved to alternative accommodation.
Meanwhile, the remaining 50 people at the camp have been alarmed by correspondence and recorded conversations with the Home Office indicating that it intends to house new asylum seekers within the barracks.
Following the relocation, the Home Office is seeking to demonstrate that it has complied with some of the report’s recommendations such as removing the clinically vulnerable and reducing numbers within shared rooms.
But with the camp on a 12-month lease from the MOD, it would so far appear that the Home Office still intends to use the camp to house asylum seekers, albeit at reduced numbers.
On 15 February the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons conducted an inspection of both camps.
The results of the inspection have not yet been published but it’s likely that they should be made known soon given that the Home Office’s 6-month permission for use of its other camp, another ex-army camp in Penally, Wales, expires on 21 March.
The Home Office has already made it known that it intends to continue using Penally, where it’s housed around 200 asylum seekers at six-per-room, for a further six months, even though local authorities have been opposed.
Meanwhile, costs are climbing despite the fact the camps were originally billed as a big taxpayer saving. This weekend Pembrokeshire Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 to the Home Office for its costs associated with the camp. This follows an award of £850,000 to Kent Police linked to the policing of Napier Barracks.
[Header image: Care4Calais]