Use of barracks to house asylum seekers could be extended despite virus outbreak

PA

The Home Office is considering extending its use of Napier Barracks to house asylum seekers despite calls to shut the facility down amid concerns of a “major health crisis”.

A coronavirus outbreak has hit the military site in Folkestone, Kent, where hundreds of people are living behind the barbed wire-topped fences.

There have been reports of suicide attempts in the Army barracks and many residents went on hunger strike in protest at the conditions which reportedly include 34 people sharing one shower.

Many of those living at Napier Barracks crossed to the UK from France aboard small boats.

People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks
People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks

Charities are calling for the site to be shut as a result of the “entirely predictable” Covid-19 crisis as they say social distancing is impossible.

Emergency use of the site was secured for six months in September, and the Home Office is considering extending beyond that, the PA news agency can reveal.

Sile Reynolds, senior policy advisor at Freedom from Torture, said: “A major health crisis is unfolding in these ex-military camps where people seeking asylum have been crammed together.

“It is a crisis that was entirely predictable. The repeated warnings from medical professionals and frontline charities have fallen on deaf ears. Things must finally change.

“Not only are these camps unsanitary and not Covid-secure, it is impossible for people trapped there to maintain any social distance.”

She called on the Government to shut the barracks to save lives.

People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks
People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks

Local charity Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) also called for the immediate closure of Napier Barracks, saying residents are “sitting ducks” for Covid-19.

However immigration minister Chris Philp has insisted conditions are “safe, suitable (and) Covid-compliant”.

He blamed the coronavirus outbreak on those living at the camp, alleging that a number “refused tests and have been either refusing to self-isolate or follow social distancing rules”.

Charities have raised concerns about how well residents are able to self-isolate and social distance given the reported cramped conditions.

People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks
People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks

Pushed on the future of the barracks, the Home Office said it was considering extending its use for housing asylum seekers.

Use of the Ministry of Defence site was initially authorised for six months under emergency provisions as the Government struggled to house thousands of people who had crossed the Channel and claimed asylum last year.

However the Home Office confirmed to PA that a public consultation on continued use of the site beyond March will open “soon”.

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, criticised the possible extension, telling PA: “Having launched an inhumane and unnecessary refugee camp on UK soil, it’s depressingly predictable that (Home Secretary) Priti Patel’s experiment is up for renewal.”

So far in 2021 at least 206 people have crossed the English Channel aboard small boats after 8,417 crossed last year.

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