politics

MPs and peers urge Priti Patel to shut Napier barracks asylum site


A cross-party group of parliamentarians has urged the home secretary to close a controversial military barracks being used to house asylum seekers with immediate effect, and instead house them in the community where they can receive appropriate support.

Members of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on immigration detention, which has more than 40 members, have written to Priti Patel to say they “entirely agree” with serious concerns aired by the then independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt, about conditions at Napier barracks in Kent.

At a meeting with APPG last month, Bolt, who has recently stepped down from his role, told the group it was a “serious error of judgment” to think military barracks could be suitable to house asylum seekers.

The parliamentarians described the conditions at Napier, where almost 200 people tested positive for coronavirus during an outbreak in January and February, as “utterly unacceptable” and said the report highlighted “serious failings on the part of the Home Office in terms of leadership, planning and accountability”.

Their letter says: “We do not believe such sites provide the safe, stable accommodation that people seeking asylum – many of whom have histories of torture, trafficking and other serious trauma – need in order to recover and rebuild their lives.”

Penally barracks in Wales had also been used by the Home Office to accommodate about half the number of people housed in Napier. The Home Office has since closed Penally but continues to insist Napier is suitable for housing asylum seekers for a period of weeks or months. Home Office officials say they have planning permission at least until September 2021 to use Napier for asylum seekers but a legal challenge is under way, which disputes this and argues that asylum seekers are being housed there in breach of planning rules.

Public Health England warned the Home Office last September that the dormitory accommodation at Napier was unsuitable for use during a pandemic, but the Home Office chose to disregard this advice. The Home Office says the Covid-19 outbreak at the barracks is over.

Judgment is awaited in a high court hearing about the barracks held on 14 and 15 April. In the course of the hearing, part of the inspection report from the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons were released to the media by the court ahead of final publication of the inspection.

The report identified serious failings, including multiple suicide attempts and incidents of self-harm along with widespread depression among asylum seekers. One man who was actively suicidal was found after attempting to take his own life. Asylum seekers who were potentially children were held in an isolation block for up to two weeks, the report found.

In the high court hearing it also emerged that fire inspectors had raised serious concerns about fire safety but that little was done to implement the fire inspectors’ recommendations until after a fire broke out at the barracks.

The Home Office has repeatedly told the Guardian that conditions at the barracks are safe and suitable for the people accommodated there.



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