Conditions inside Napier Barracks are UNLAWFUL: High Court judge rules government illegally held people in Kent detention centre after challenge from six asylum seekers
- Six asylum seekers brought legal challenge over conditions of Napier Barracks
- Napier Barracks used to house hundreds of asylum seekers since last September
- This is despite Home Office being warned by PHE that it was unsuitable
- Judge ruled Napier provided inadequate accommodation for asylum seekers
Conditions inside former military barracks used to house asylum seekers have been ruled unlawful by a High Court judge.
Six asylum seekers brought a legal challenge against the Home Office over the ‘appalling’ the conditions of Napier Barracks in Kent – where 200 residents caught Covid and seven attempted suicide.
Napier Barracks have been used to house hundreds of asylum seekers since last September – despite the Home Office being warned by Public Health England that it was unsuitable.
Today, Judge Mr Justice Linden ruled that Napier provided inadequate accommodation for asylum seekers.
He also said the process for selecting people to be accommodated there was flawed and unlawful and found residents were unlawfully detained under purported Covid rules.
He said: ‘Whether on the basis of the issues of Covid or fire safety taken in isolation, or looking at the cumulative effect of the decision making about, and the conditions in, the barracks, I do not accept that the accommodation there ensured a standard of living which was adequate for the health of the claimants.
‘Insofar as the defendant considered that the accommodation was adequate for their needs, that view was irrational.’
Six asylum seekers brought a legal challenge against the Home Office over the ‘appalling’ the conditions of Napier Barracks (pictured) in Kent – where 200 residents caught Covid and seven attempted suicide
Napier Barracks (pictured) have been used to house hundreds of asylum seekers since last September – despite the Home Office being warned by Public Health England that it was unsuitable
The barracks – which is more than 100 years old and was previously used by the Ministry of Defence as temporary accommodation for soldiers – were branded ‘squalid, ill-equipped and lacking in personal privacy’ during a two-day hearing in April.
The six men – all said to be ‘survivors of torture and/or human trafficking’ – argued the Home Office is unlawfully accommodating people there.
The claim the conditions at the camp pose ‘real and immediate risks to life and of ill-treatment’.
Today, Judge Mr Justice Linden ruled that Napier (pictured) provided inadequate accommodation for asylum seekers
The barracks (pictured) were branded ‘squalid, ill-equipped and lacking in personal privacy’ during a two-day hearing in April
During the hearing, the men’s lawyers said that accommodating asylum seekers at the barracks was a breach of their human rights and could amount to false imprisonment.
They also argued the Home Office failed to put in place a process to prevent ‘particularly vulnerable asylum seekers’ from being housed at the barracks.
Tom Hickman QC – representing four of the six men – described the camp as ‘squalid, ill-equipped, lacking in personal privacy and, most fundamentally of all, unsafe’, with no mental health support and only one nurse on site.
He also said moving the men to the former Ministry of Defence camp ‘exposed them to an exceptionally high risk’ of contracting Covid-19.
Almost 200 people tested positive for coronavirus during an outbreak at the barracks earlier this year, senior Home Office officials told MPs in February.
The six men’s lawyers told the court at a previous hearing that the Home Office ‘knew or ought to have known of the impossibility of effective means of controlling or containing infection at the barracks’.
The Home Office defended the claim, saying it took ‘reasonable steps to ensure that persons who are specifically vulnerable to severe illness or death from Covid-19 are not placed in a congregate setting’.
Lisa Giovannetti QC, for the department, said it ‘accepts that Napier is unsuitable for long-term accommodation, but it is not intended as such’.
She told the court the Home Office decided to use Napier Barracks ‘to provide short-term contingency accommodation to single, healthy adult males’ in response to ‘an urgent need to source a significant number of additional accommodation spaces’.
Hundreds of migrants have stayed at the barracks since it was reopened in September, but asylum seekers say slammed conditions, saying there is no mental health support and just one nurse on site
Ms Giovannetti added the Home Office ‘has taken reasonable steps to ensure that persons who are specifically vulnerable to severe illness or death from Covid-19 are not placed in a congregate setting’.
During the hearing, a report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) into conditions was released.
The report into the barracks and Penally Camp in Wales found ‘fundamental failures’ by the Home Office, leading to ‘dangerous shortcomings in the nature of the accommodation and poor experiences for the residents’.
Key problems included the ineffective safeguarding or residents which may include children, vulnerable people and those with mental health issues along with filthy or ‘variable at best’ levels of cleanliness.
Other issues included cramped conditions that made social distancing difficult, a lack of information for residents about how long they would be kept at the sites or how their claims were progressing and the negative mental impacts that all of this has on them.
In November footage taken at Napier Barracks showed crowds shouting ‘we want freedom’ at the fence
After the court hearings, it emerged that hundreds of people would be moved into the barracks, with plans to increase numbers to more than 300 residents.
In April, cross-party members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel to say they ‘entirely agree’ with the concerns aired by the ICIBI.
The letter, signed by 21 MPs, states: ‘We do not believe such sites provide the safe, stable accommodation that people seeking asylum – man, trafficking and other serious trauma – need in order to recover and rebuild their lives.’
In their letter, the MPs condemn the conditions as ‘utterly unacceptable’ and say the report highlights ‘serious failings on the part of the Home Office in terms of leadership, planning and accountability.’
The MPs said they are ‘extremely concerned’ that Napier Barracks is still being used and are calling for it to be shut down, stating that people who may be sent to the site for at least 60 to 90 days are at ‘very serious risk of harm’.
Asylum seekers kept at Napier Barracks in Folkestone have repeatedly protested over the ‘appalling’ standards inside the former army camp
Riot police were called out to the barracks on January 29 after a fire broke out causing ‘significant damage’ to the 100-year-old site. Fourteen people were arrested following the disturbance.
In November footage taken at Napier Barracks showed crowds shouting ‘we want freedom’ at the fence.
Footage recorded by an onlooker shows the group hit and pull at the barrier while officers watch from the other side.
Ms Patel and immigration minister Chris Philp have both previously defended the use of such sites, despite the Home Office facing repeated criticism over the decision.
More than 45,000 people have called for the camp, where numerous protests have been held, to be closed in a petition – just as the Penally camp in Wales was closed in March.
Asylum seekers were moved out of former army barracks in Penally, Wales, that were described as ‘impoverished and run-down’.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart confirmed in a letter to residents near Penally Camp, in Pembrokeshire, that the site would be returned to the Ministry of Defence by March 21.
Mr Hart’s letter said that although the decision to use the camp to house asylum seekers had caused ‘much frustration and anger’ in the community, the Home Office claimed it had ‘little option at the time.’
The first of around 250 male asylum seekers aged between 18 and 35 moved into the site in September of last year.
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