The continued use of a “squalid” military barracks to house asylum seekers “is beyond belief” and must end, according to charities.
Last year saw two coronavirus outbreaks behind barbed wire fences at Napier Barracks in Kent, and part of the site was labeled ‘unsuitable for habitation’.
The first asylum seekers were moved to the site on September 21, 2020, but the barracks are still in use 12 months later.
Dating back over 130 years, the aging military site was loaned to the Home Office for emergency use last year amid increasing numbers of people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Despite continued outcry from charities and refugee organizations, the government announced last month that the Napier Barracks could be used for accommodation until 2025.
The Home Office continues to insist that Folkestone Barracks is appropriate and has repeated its claim that to suggest it is not enough “is an insult”.
The anniversary of the site’s use to accommodate asylum seekers on Tuesday comes as record numbers continue to risk their lives crossing the Strait of Pas de Calais from France.
But despite the sharp increase in small boat arrivals on the south coast last year, asylum claims in the UK fell in 2020.
Thinking back to the last 12 months of Napier Barracks, Steve Valdez-Symonds, Director of Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International UK, said: exacerbated psychological trauma and people usually punished for just exercising their right to seek asylum in the UK.
“Barracks are now synonymous with the cruel injustice of the government’s attempts to shirk its responsibility to provide a fair, humane and properly managed asylum system.
Earlier this year, nearly 200 people in Napier Barracks contracted coronavirus, leading to accusations that health advice had been ignored.
The dormitory-style accommodation at the site has come under repeated criticism amid fears about virus transmission and social distancing.
Mr. Valdez-Symonds added: “The recent events in Afghanistan have been a painful reminder of the extreme dangers that push refugees to seek safety, but the government is shamelessly trying to criminalize and punish refugees without protecting them.
“Anyone who stands up for humanity and human rights should stand up against the disgraceful use of Napier and the broader oppressive asylum policy it is so sadly emblematic of. “
Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive Officer of Refugee Action, said: “It boggles the mind that after a year and two Covid outbreaks, refugees are still cramped in decrepit buildings behind tall fences and barbed wire.
“Barracks must be closed, people relocated to our communities and the government tears up plans outlined in its anti-refugee bill to copy Napier and house people in ‘detention-lite’ reception centers.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said that the “unprecedented and unacceptable increase” in small boat crossings and the Covid-19 pandemic “continue to put pressure on our asylum system”.
They added: “As we work to reform the failing asylum system, we must ensure that we have sufficient capacity to fulfill our legal obligation to provide support to genuine and destitute asylum seekers.”
The Home Office spokesperson reiterated their frequent claim that the Napier barracks were previously used to house military personnel and “to suggest that they are not good enough for asylum seekers is an insult”.
“The new immigration plan provides the only long-term solution to fix the failing system, which includes changes to the law to tackle criminal gangs and prevent further loss of life,” they added.