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THE continued use of Napier Barracks a year on beggars belief and must end, rights groups said today.
The Home Office began transferring asylum-seekers to the ex-army barracks in Folkestone on September 21 last year.
Over the past 12 months, hundreds of men have continued to be moved into the site despite inspectors branding conditions “filthy, impoverished and unsafe” and a High Court ruling that the decision to put asylum-seekers there had been unlawful.
Former residents of the barracks interviewed by the Morning Star over the past year have spoken of long-term effects on their mental health because of the overcrowded, unsanitary and “prison-like” conditions they endured.
In February a mass outbreak at the site resulted in half of the residents catching Covid-19.
It was later found that the Home Office had ignored public health guidance on Covid-19 safety before moving asylum-seekers in.
Amnesty International UK refugee and migrant rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds said: “Over the past year, the squalid detention-like conditions at Napier Barracks have spread Covid-19, renewed or exacerbated psychological traumas and generally punished people for doing no more than exercise their right to seek asylum in the UK.
“The barracks are now a byword for the cruel injustice of the government’s attempts to shirk responsibility for providing a fair, humane and properly run asylum system.”
Refugee Action chief executive Tim Naor Hilton said that it beggars belief that, after 12 months and two Covid outbreaks, “refugees are still being cramped into decrepit buildings behind high fences and barbed wire.
“The barracks must be closed, people rehomed in our communities, and the government tear up plans outlined in its anti-refugee Bill to copy Napier and house people in ‘detention-lite’ reception centres,” he said.
The Home Office claims the continued use of the barracks is needed due to pressures on the asylum system from an “unprecedented and unacceptable” rise of Channel boat crossings.
Last week Home Secretary Priti Patel said she intends to keep using Napier until 2025. Planning permission had been due to expire today.
A local Kent resident recently launched a legal action against Ms Patel’s decision, arguing that keeping Napier open for another four years breaches planning regulations because the Home Office failed to consult the local community or consider the environmental impact.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants interim chief executive Minnie Rahman said: "No-one should be locked away in squalid, unsafe housing. Yet this government continues to shut vulnerable people away in a barracks that’s been deemed overcrowded, unlawful and unfit for human habitation.
"Over the past year, these actions have put people’s lives at risk – with residents suffering a large-scale COVID outbreak that was later ruled ‘inevitable’ by the High Court, and many victims of torture and trafficking traumatised by the prison-like conditions. It’s time government acted lawfully and reasonably, by shutting Napier down and housing people within communities."
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