Plan to house more asylum-seekers in military barracks ‘a recipe for disaster,’ warn charities

Charities criticised what they see as the government's ‘culture-warring’

Thomas Kingsley
Tuesday 23 November 2021 10:59
<p>Living conditions at Napier Barracks were described in a report as impoverished</p>

Living conditions at Napier Barracks were described in a report as impoverished

Charities have criticised reported plans for more military barracks to house house asylum-seekers, warning the “cruel” policy would be a “recipe for disaster”.

A government task force has been set up to consider various options, as thousands of people continue to risk their lives crossing the English Channel to the UK in small boats.

Whitehall officials will consider the use of barracks, the possibility of cutting benefits, whether return agreements can be strengthened, and “offshoring” to third countries while claims are processed, according to reports.

Charities accused the government of “culture-warring” and called on ministers to instead focus on establishing more secure routes for migrants seeking asylum.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: “Sending refugees to offshore detention centres or dilapidated ex-barracks will not stop desperate people seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Concerns have been mounting about accommodation at Napier Barracks in Kent

“If the government wants to stop dangerous boat crossings, negative headlines and voter concern, it would allow a safe corridor from France to the UK for the relatively small number of people who want to come to the UK to make an asylum claim.

“Its strategy of culture-warring the issue while overseeing an increase in dangerous crossings is understandably satisfying no one”.

Napier Barracks in Kent is currently used to house asylum-seekers but has been dogged by allegations of poor conditions in communal dormitories, with inspectors describing an isolation block as “unfit for habitation”.

The camp also came under fire in August after an outbreak involving dozens of asylum-seekers having to self-isolate. In January, a major Covid outbreak at the camp saw nearly 200 people infected, which led to all residents being gradually moved out by the start of April. It re-opened days later.

The Home Office has previously claimed it was an “insult” to suggest the site was not “adequate” for asylum-seekers.

Use of the site is set to continue until as late as 2025. About 277 people are currently living in the barracks, according to the PA news agency.

Clare Moseley, founder of migrant charity Care4Calais, said: “Large accommodation sites stop asylum-seekers being able to integrate into communities and easily access services such as medical support, charities, churches and other amenities that may be easily available in a town.

“A large site like Napier for example can put undue strain on a smaller local community. For people fleeing war, torture and persecution the increased isolation impacts on health and mental health.”

She said it was “disappointing” to see a focus on cost-saving accommodation and said a “better answer” would be efficient and accurate processing of asylum claims.

"Forcing more people to live in squalid army barracks is yet another cruel proposal that distracts from the real problems", Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights director said.

"The government should concentrate on ensuring that people fleeing persecution are recognised as refugees as quickly as possible and provide the asylum to which they are entitled," he added.

"They must also end their foolish policy of delaying people's asylum claims in the vain hope that another country can be persuaded to take responsibility for that person seeking asylum.

"Instead, ministers are devising more ways to demean or mistreat people seeking asylum - a recipe for further disaster."

The Independent has approached the Home Office for comment.

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