Napier barracks “could be used to accommodate asylum seekers longer”

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The government could consider using military barracks to house asylum seekers for “a few more years,” MPs and peers have heard.

Lawyers have said during a parliamentary inquiry that the Napier Barracks in Kent could be used for housing asylum seekers beyond September, after initially believing the measure to be temporary and expected to last around a year during the coronavirus pandemic.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigrant Detention on Thursday heard testimony from legal and medical professionals who worked with people staying at the barracks, after launching an investigation into the use of these sites by the Ministry of the Interior due to concerns about living conditions.

We have heard that the government is planning to extend the use of the fire station beyond September, which is of great concern to us, that it will continue to use it for a few more years.

Sue Willman, Deighton Pierce Glynn Law

Sue Willman, lawyer at Deighton Pierce Glynn Law, told politicians: “We have heard that the government is planning to extend the use of the barracks beyond September, which is of great concern to us as it continues to l ‘use for a few more years.

She urged them to seek “further clarification” on this amid suggestions that portable booths could be moved to the site from an immigrant detention center as part of plans for future use.

Nearly 200 people at Folkestone Barracks in Kent contracted Covid-19 during a major outbreak earlier this year.

In April, the Home Office declared the outbreak over and insisted that asylum seekers remained in “safe, suitable and Covid-compliant conditions”.

But this month, senior health officials said it was still “difficult to consider” the site being considered safe for Covid.

It came after six asylum seekers previously housed there won a court challenge against the government after a High Court judge ruled their accommodation was inadequate.

A High Court judge ruled that the accommodation at Napier Barracks was inadequate (Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration / HM Prison Inspectorate / PA)

The Home Office faced new calls to shut down the site following the decision, but instead insisted that “significant improvements” have been made.

But the investigation has learned that it is so far unclear what these improvements are.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Immigration Minister Chris Philp have both defended the use of such sites in the past, suggesting they were suitable as they had previously been used for military personnel.

This despite an inspection by two independent watchdogs describing parts of the barracks as “dirty” and “dilapidated”, highlighting “fundamental failures” in accommodating asylum seekers there.

Dr Jill O’Leary, head of the Helen Bamber Foundation’s medical advisory service, told the APPG hearing: “Military personnel have not been in barracks for a number of years.

“They were decommissioned for a reason and even when they were occupied by military personnel it was for one to two weeks at a time, it was certainly not expected that anyone would live there for months, rather than weeks, which is the case. we are seeing with the residents who are staying there at the moment.

Asylum seekers are “inherently vulnerable” and have “significant health problems,” she added.

Dr Juliet Cohen, chief medical officer of the Freedom From Torture charity, said there are differences between asylum seekers and service staff who must be “fit, young, well-nourished and well-nourished individuals. without active health problems “for active service.

“Napier and Penally (another barracks originally used in Wales but which has since been closed) were not suitable for the military, there had been many complaints, they were dilapidated, rarely used and only used for long periods of time. very short periods. “

The investigation also learned that the military and “almost detention-like” environment could seriously affect those who have faced traumatic experiences or torture.

Mr Philp told the Commons earlier this month that no decision had been made on whether the department would continue to use the barracks beyond September.

On Thursday, the Home Office said it still was, a spokeswoman adding: “Significant improvements have been made to the site, including improved housing and more outdoor and recreational activities. “

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