Napier barracks: “detention-type” site housing asylum seekers must be permanently closed after judicial victory, activists say


Campaigners have called for the permanent closure of the former ‘detention-style’ military barracks in Kent that were used to house asylum seekers, after a High Court judge found the accommodation was inadequate. the “minimum standard”.

Six asylum seekers formerly housed at Napier Barracks, Folkestone, have won their challenge against the Home Office for the “dangerous” and “sordid” conditions at the facility.

Campaigners have repeatedly expressed concerns about the site, and a number of organizations, including Refugee Action, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Care4Calais, on Thursday reiterated their calls for the closure of the site.

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called the judgment a “shameful verdict” for Home Secretary Priti Patel, and added that ministers “have been warned – on several occasions – of the conditions dangerous and unacceptable in Napier ”.

The group of asylum seekers, all believed to be “survivors of torture and / or human trafficking,” argued at a hearing in April that conditions in the camp posed “real risks and immediate life and ill-treatment ”.

The facility has been used to house hundreds of asylum seekers since last September, although the Home Office has been warned by Public Health England that it is not suitable.

Judge Linden ruled in favor of the men on Thursday, ruling that the accommodation did not meet a “minimum standard” and that the Home Office had acted illegally in ruling that the old military camp was appropriate.

He said: “Whether based on the issues of Covid or fire safety taken in isolation, or looking at the cumulative effect of decision making and conditions in the barracks, I do not accept that accommodation y guarantees an adequate standard of living for the health of the applicants.

“Insofar as the respondent considered the accommodation to be suitable for his needs, this view was irrational. “

During a two-day hearing in April, the men’s lawyers said accommodating asylum seekers in the barracks was a violation of their human rights and could amount to bogus imprisonment.

Tom Hickman QC, representing four of the six men, described the camp as “squalid, ill-equipped, lacking privacy and, most importantly, dangerous” with no mental health support and only one nurse on site.

The Home Office defended its decision, saying it had taken “reasonable steps to ensure that people particularly vulnerable to serious illness or death from Covid-19 are not placed in a collective setting “.

Lisa Giovannetti QC, representing the department, said he “accepts that Napier is not suitable for long-term accommodation, but is not designed as such.”

Justice Linden added in his ruling that while “adequacy” was a low standard, the Napier Barracks had failed while the six asylum seekers were housed there.

The judge cited the spread of Covid-19, overcrowding, a lack of ventilation, as well as the “detention-like” setting for men, who were not meant to be detained.

He said: “What is at issue here is the accommodation in which they were supposed to live voluntarily, pending a decision on their asylum claims.

“When this is taken into account, a decision that accommodation in a detention-like setting – a site surrounded by a perimeter fence topped with barbed wire, access to which is through padlocked gates guarded by uniformed security personnel – will be tailored to their needs, begins. look questionable.

Ms Patel and Immigration Compliance Minister Chris Philp have previously defended the use of such sites.

Mariam Kemple Hardy, Campaigns Manager at Refugee Action, said: “This judgment justifies anyone who has repeatedly told the government that recklessly forcing hundreds of refugees into overcrowded camps during a deadly pandemic was a gamble with the lives of the people. people.

“It is high time that ministers found some compassion in the way they treat asylum seekers, many of whom have fled violence, persecution and torture.

“The Napier Barracks and all other camp-style accommodation must be closed.

“Refugees should be hosted in our communities, close to the cultural, health and legal support they desperately need. “

Satbir Singh, chief executive of JCWI, said the decision showed that “the government not only ignores its own rules, but is reckless with people’s lives.”

Clare Moseley, Founder of Care4Calais, said: “We are delighted with this ruling, which follows months in which the government ignored a mountain of evidence and complaints that Napier is not only unsuitable but very damaging to people. vulnerable people entrusted to their care. It is disappointing that the evidence provided by NGOs and regulators has been ignored for so long and that he has taken legal steps to reach this verdict.

“The fact remains that the Napier barracks is still in use and people are clearly in danger. We will continue to campaign to close the barracks and those inside must be moved to suitable accommodation as soon as possible. Criminal [Barracks] was closed and Napier should be too.

And Naomi Smith, managing director of the pro-internationalist group Best for Britain, added: “These centers must be closed now, and the most vulnerable in our society are providing appropriate care and accommodation. “

Sarah Teather, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, described the barracks as “ghettoized detention-like accommodation” and that it was time to shut them down.

Meanwhile, Jon Featonby, head of refugee and asylum policy at the British Red Cross, said there was a “unique opportunity in a generation to create a fair, compassionate and asylum system. effective through a reform “and” which should begin with the immediate end of the use of military barracks to house people “.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “At the height of the pandemic, to ensure that asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was needed at extremely short notice.

“These accommodations offered asylum seekers a safe and secure place to stay. Throughout this period, our hosts and contractors have made improvements to the site and continue to do so.

“It is disappointing that this judgment was made on the basis of the site before the major improvement works which took place under difficult circumstances. Napier will continue to operate and provide safe and secure hosting.

“We will carefully consider the decision and our next steps. “

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