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Napier Barracks in Folkestone, on the day it opened its doors to a new wave of asylum-seekers (photo: Maddie Harris).

Anger at Napier reoccupation

Hastings Community of Sanctuary, along with other refugee support groups and parties, has reacted angrily to the Home Office’s decision to move asylum-seekers back into Napier Barracks, despite the many criticisms made by an independent inquiry and a legal action which would outlaw the move due to be heard this week. Nick Terdre reports.

The Home Office began moving asylum-seekers into Napier Barracks in Folkestone on Friday in a move roundly condemned by refugee support groups and human rights groups including Hastings Community of Sanctuary, Care4Calais, Freedom from Torture, Kent Refugee Action Network, Humans for Rights Network, Choose Love and Asylum Matters. The barracks came to national attention in January when there was a mass outbreak of Covid-19, which led to the eventual removal of all 400 or so inhabitants.

After the clean-up: curtains and dividing screens have been used to form cubicles inside the dormitories (image from video shot by a new inmate and provided to Humans for Rights Network).

An interim report on an inspection of Napier in February by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Inspectorate of Prisons found that, “Given the cramped communal conditions and unworkable cohorting at Napier, once one person was infected a large-scale outbreak [of Covid-19] was virtually inevitable.”

The report states that Napier was opened up to refugees by the Home Office despite Public Health England’s concerns about its “Covid-safety”and its advice that the “multi-occupancy dormitory-style accommodation” was not supported by existing guidance.

Elsewhere in a long litany of criticisms, the report comments on the mental effect on those housed in the barracks, mentioning “…many men who described feeling depressed and hopeless at their circumstances.”

Appalled

“Hastings Community of Sanctuary is appalled that anyone seeking sanctuary in the UK is housed in such inadequate, dangerous, and inappropriate accommodation as Napier Barracks in Folkestone,” the campaign group said.

“We are horrified that the Home Office is now rounding up a huge new cohort of people and once again forcing them into these very same barracks that have been so widely condemned after the massive public exposure of their inhumanity and danger to health.”

The statement points out that the barracks were deemed to be entirely unfit to house the British army in 2014.”Yet the Home Office persists in treating people seeking asylum as second-class citizens. The former residents of Napier Barracks were constantly denied even the most basic human rights, with limited or no access to medical care, privacy, decent nutrition, and legal representation. It seems that the Home Office is deliberately trying to dehumanise those people who are seeking sanctuary.”

The group has campaigned vigorously against the use of Napier barracks to house asylum-seekers, calling meetings, starting petitions, lobbying MPs and publishing letters and articles in local and mainstream media. “And we condemn the profiteering company Clearsprings [the barracks contractor] for implementing this inhumane Home Office policy,” it said.

Care4Calais tried to lift spirits of the new arrivals (photo: Clare Moseley).

The first arrivals in the new wave of occupation were met by representatives of support groups including Maddie Harris, director of Humans for Rights Network and Care4Calais’ Clare Mosesley.

“Priti Patel promised a more compassionate asylum system following the Windrush scandal, but instead she is doubling down on her model of cruelty,” said Harris.

“To treat people seeking sanctuary with dignity and respect has always been vital, but now more than ever, we must fight for it.”

Home Office in court

A court action brought by six former inmates of the barracks claims that their consignment to Napier by the Home Office amounted to unlawful detention, breaching human rights and immigration legislation and even the contract between the Home Office and Clearsprings.

If the court finds for the claimants, the Home Office will have to end the use of Napier barracks for housing asylum-seekers, though it has told those newly consigned there they will be there for several months.

The case is due to be heard this week, another reason why lawyers, human rights bodies and refugee support groups have criticised the Home Office’s move. In a preliminary hearing the Home Office did not dispute that the claims were arguable and should be heard.

Only a few of the men now consigned to Napier were there before. One of them, who suffered political persecution in Iran, told The Guardian, “My life in Iran was like prison. I don’t want to live in another prison-state.” If he was there for more than a week, he would consider suicide, he said.

Reflections on life in Napier Barracks

Erfan, an asylum-seeker who was consigned to Napier in the first occupation, has described the experience in a statement posted on the Hastings Community of Sanctuary website. This is an edited extract.

I was held in Napier Barracks for more than three months, with more than 400 other vulnerable people. Social distancing was impossible, and I contracted Covid-19, along with nearly 200 others.  I did not receive even paracetamol for the pain. Our conditions were widely condemned – by Amnesty, Freedom from Torture, 35 bishops from across the country, the head of the Red Cross, and even the former Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes. Finally, in February, the barracks were inspected and pronounced “run down, impoverished and filthy” by the Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration – and he is appointed by the Home Office itself.

Yet on Friday 9 April, the Home Office rounded up a new group of asylum seekers and sent them to Napier barracks. It seems that the Home Office is setting out again to fill this camp – a place judged many years ago to be absolutely not good enough for military personnel and unfit for any human habitation at all.

It hurts me now, having experienced this miserable mass accommodation, to see these others who will soon suffer from it too. We who lived there are not the same people we used to be. We are all profoundly traumatised. It was so shocking to be called ‘criminals’, ‘invaders’ and ‘illegals’. Many of us had to flee our country very quickly: desperate people do desperate things and risking your life to seek asylum through dangerous ways of entering another country does not make anyone less ‘genuine’.

But not all who seek asylum arrive by boats or through a safe country. I came to the UK to study at a university. Sudden serious threats meant that I am facing torture and punishment on my arrival back in my country, where an oppressive government tortures and even executes people simply for actions of political protest – even just speaking up about a problem. We believed the UK and other European countries to be sympathetic towards human beings suffering such terrible things. It was therefore shattering to experience the reality of Home Office policy in the barracks.

I still believe most people of this country are hospitable and caring. We who seek asylum have so much to offer– in the camp were people from all kinds of professions – medical workers, technicians, a chef, even a professional basketball player. Treating us as less than fully human has consequences for the whole community. We are building our future by writing our deeds now; let’s make the next generation of this country be proud and glad of their country being a sanctuary for those who need it.

 

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Posted 12:45 Wednesday, Apr 14, 2021 In: Campaigns

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Bernard McGinley

    Thanks for an excellent article. Napier Barracks is not habitable in a pandemic. The facilities are bad: overcrowding, lack of facilities, low management standards.

    Clearsprings’ record on asylum housing is notorious. They make money (lots of it) by not looking after refugees properly. The Home Office pay them and Clearsprings minimise costs. Vermin, damp, and bad food are the predictable result.

    There are other companies too, exploiting misery by causing it. Priti Patel is running a rotten system.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Friday, Apr 16, 2021 @ 11:03

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