A new addition of asylum seekers will be sent to the controversial Napier barracks in Kent starting Friday, the Guardian understands, despite mounting evidence that the camp is unsuitable for accommodation.
The former military site near Folkestone was emptied of its last residents over the weekend, raising hopes that the Home Office will suspend its use as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.
However, The Guardian has seen correspondence confirming that Clearsprings Ready Homes, the private contractor that runs the site on behalf of the Home Office, intends to bring in newcomers starting Friday.
The decision comes after a significant Covid outbreak in which 50% of the nearly 400 residents fell ill, multiple pending legal challenges, the closure of a sister site in Pembrokeshire and months of revelations about the suitability of the camp.
Critics expressed anger and disappointment at the Interior Ministry’s decision to persevere in using the former Ministry of Defense (MoD) site.
Stuart McDonald, SNP MP and member of the select committee on home affairs, said: “The Home Office does not need to use these old dilapidated barracks to accommodate people fleeing war and violence, but is choosing to do so in anyway, despite a damning inspection and ongoing pandemic. That choice is political.
“The entire machinery of the Ministry of the Interior is bent on ensuring that the lives of people seeking refuge are as miserable as possible in the hope that it will prevent others from applying for refugee status. The use of these dilapidated barracks is shocking and shameful, but it is consistent with everything else the Interior Ministry is doing. “
Earlier this year, the high court heard that the Home Office ignored advice from Public Health England that dormitory-style accommodation at Napier Barracks, which can accommodate 28 men on a single block, was not suitable during the pandemic.
And the SM Prison Inspectorate and the Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration released a damning report following the inspections of Napier and the now-closed Penally camp, calling the sites “dirty” and “impoverished.”
Enver Solomon, Executive Director of the Refugee Council, said: “Local agencies in Kent and independent inspectors have concluded that the barracks are unsuitable for housing anyone. It is shocking that the government is ignoring this and continues to treat people who have experienced great trauma in their lives with a total lack of compassion and humanity. “
Dr. Jill O’Leary, Senior Physician for the Helen Bamber Foundation Medical Advisory, who evaluated former residents of the Napier Barracks, said: “We have constantly seen the threat that these former military sites pose to physical health and residents mental. We have witnessed a devastating Covid-19 outbreak due to dorm-style accommodations, not to mention mental health crises, self-harm, and suicide attempts as a result of the unsuitable environment.
“The Helen Bamber Foundation testified before the home affairs selection committee in February detailing the level of suffering that existed at these sites. The news that the Home Office is transferring vulnerable asylum seekers back to Napier in the face of this evidence is deeply distressing for everyone involved.
“I anticipate more unnecessary and avoidable suffering of vulnerable people as a result of this decision.”
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said: “We obtained permission to use the Napier barracks for 12 months and as long as pressure on the asylum system persists, it will continue to use the site.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism