Asylum seekers on hunger strike over conditions at UK military camp
Residents complain of cramped conditions and broken toilets at camp near southern coast
Asylum seekers who arrived in the UK from France went on hunger strike and some slept outside in protest at the conditions at the military barracks where they are housed.
More than 400 people have been living for months at the Napier Barracks in Kent, in south-east England, and many say they fear the cramped quarters increase the risk of Covid-19 spreading.
Charity workers reported suicide attempts at the barracks, where conditions have been likened to squalid refugee camps in and around the French coastal city of Calais, the last staging posts for those seeking to cross to the UK.
This type of accommodation is entirely inappropriate for people who may have suffered through human trafficking, torture and imprisonment
One Sudanese migrant said that 34 people were sharing a single shower and toilet and that it was impossible to sleep at night because of the noise. Videos from the camp near the southern coastal town of Folkestone showed broken sinks and toilets.
The barracks is one of two sites being used for asylum seekers after a surge in new arrivals as thousands of people crossed the English Channel in small boats over the past year.
The number of people crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes quadrupled in 2020 compared with the previous year to more than 8,000, according to a tally by Britain’s Press Association news agency.
“This type of accommodation is entirely inappropriate for people who may have suffered through human trafficking, torture and imprisonment,” said migrant charity Care4Calais. “They are surrounded by barbed wire fencing; the military or detention environment re-traumatises those living there and they struggle to keep going.”
The Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with victims of torture, said the government had promised that vulnerable people would not be held there. After being told they would remain there for only four weeks, there is no immediate prospect of a move after four months.
Jennifer Blair, the co-head of legal protection at the charity, said: “The longer these camps remain open, the more our doctors are seeing a deterioration in residents’ welfare.”
She said there were much better ways of dealing with asylum cases, including fast-tracking simple decisions to free up space.
Chris Philp, the UK's immigration compliance minister, said the migrants should not have made the journey in the first place, according to The Guardian newspaper.
“Those at Napier have generally come from France by small boat," he is reported as saying. "This journey is not only dangerous but unnecessary – France is a safe country with a well-functioning asylum system."
Updated: January 13, 2021 05:57 PM