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‘Unbearable’ refugee camp at crisis point

‘Suicide attempts’ at squalid site where 34 people share one shower

A REFUGEE has described “unbearable” living conditions at the military barracks in Kent used to house asylum-seekers, with 34 people sharing one shower and toilet.

Campaigners have warned of multiple suicide attempts at Napier Barracks near Folkestone, which the Home Office is using to house asylum-seekers, including people who have risked their lives to cross the Channel in small boats.

Since Monday many of the residents have been on hunger strike and are sleeping outside, despite the cold nights, in protest at conditions in the camp.

On Tuesday, dozens of people rallied at the barracks’ forbidding barbed-wire-topped fence, chanting “freedom” and waving banners.

Asylum-seekers are sleeping in 14-person dorms with just curtains to separate the beds, campaigners say, warning that the residents there struggle to get access to the most basic healthcare and dental treatment. 

Campaigners have also raised concerns on residents’ mental health: many of the asylum-seekers have escaped war zones only to be placed in the crowded and traumatising military environment, and the refugees receive little or no information on the progress of their asylum claims, they reported.

One resident who has been living at Napier Barracks since September said: “I am protesting because the conditions here are not good. Thirty-four of us share one shower and one toilet.

“There is no privacy. At night no-one can sleep because there is too much noise. The situation is unbearable. You cannot settle and there is no peace and quiet.”

The resident said they are also worried about Covid-19 infections because of the cramped conditions. They said: “It’s a military set-up here, it’s like being in prison. You can’t do anything without someone knowing, everything you do is watched.

“I don’t feel safe here, I’m really struggling mentally, the thoughts I’m having are very hard. Being here brings up bad memories, particularly at night. I am suffering from nightmares of my memories.

“I’m not getting any sleep, three or four hours maybe, each night. I am tired.”

The barracks is one of two Ministry of Defence sites being used to house asylum-seekers, loaned to the Home Office after the department struggled to house the thousands of people who crossed the Channel last year. It was designated to house about 400 asylum-seekers, making it the Home Office’s biggest “initial accommodation site.”

Detention Action director Bella Sankey said: “The government needs to get ahead of this situation and make an urgent U-turn before this experiment ends in disaster.

“It’s no good pretending that all is well when those being held at the barracks are telling you that life is unbearable and the suicide attempts mount by the day.

“The UK has the means to accommodate those seeking safety in houses in our towns, cities and villages. The Home Office must get on and do this, there is no excuse for delay.”

Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said: “Asylum-seekers have fled terrifying dangers, wars and persecution. They need support and protection: instead our government is treating them with cruelty.

“The Home Office can quickly solve this crisis by processing asylum-seekers’ claims. They want to work, settle in this country and contribute to society. 

“Processing their claims would give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives instead of keeping them in this cruel limbo and remove the need for unsafe short-term asylum housing.”

Immigration Minister Chris Philp said the government takes the wellbeing of asylum-seekers “extremely seriously” and is providing them with “safe, warm, Covid-secure, suitable accommodation” where they receive three meals a day.

“They are not detained and are free to come and go in line with Covid-19 restrictions,” he said.
 

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