Inspectors criticise UK migrant centre for Covid-19 outbreak among asylum seekers

Long-awaited review concludes barracks was ill-prepared to prevent coronavirus spread

FOLKESTONE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13: Asylum seekers currently held inside Napier Barracks on January 13, 2021 in Folkestone, United Kingdom. Over 400 asylum seekers are being kept at Napier Barracks in conditions they claim are 'unsuitable', with some people experiencing mental health issues as well as being vulnerable to health conditions including COVID-19. It has been reported that there has been 'at least two suicide attempts' at the facility in the last week. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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The UK government eventually released a long-delayed and critical report of conditions at two military barracks used for asylum seekers on Thursday, a day after a senior minister faced a public grilling over a Covid-19 outbreak at the camp.

The report by immigration and prisons inspectors, released as MPs departed on their summer break, criticised officials for failing to heed advice from public health officials, which meant a “large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable” at Napier Barracks in south-east England.

The barracks remains open and is operating at a third of its capacity after improvements to the regime, say officials. The second site in Wales has closed.

Home Secretary Priti Patel was questioned about the report on Tuesday by MPs who accused her department of failing to learn the lessons of an outbreak that affected about 200 people at the centre earlier this year.

Most of the report was made public at a court hearing last month when a group of six asylum seekers won a claim against the government over poor conditions at the camp.

The six – who are in line to win compensation – argued successfully that there was a real risk to their lives from Covid-19 at the camp where officials had failed to screen those most at risk.

Ms Patel’s department declared the outbreak over in April and said the asylum seekers were staying in safe, suitable and Covid-compliant conditions. But her view has been contested by senior health officials and groups working with the migrants.

Although numbers are down to a third of the 300 maximum capacity, the Home Affairs select committee heard that asylum seekers continued to share dormitories at the barracks near the seaside town of Folkestone in Kent. Ms Patel came under fire over conditions at the camp.

Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper told the minister: “You just don’t learn lessons, do you? The courts have already come to a really damning conclusion ... it’s just astonishing, it’s irresponsible to people who are being put in Covid unsafe situations.”

Ms Patel told her: “I just don't accept that ... it’s wrong to say we are not learning lessons."

In its six-page response to the report’s findings, the Home Office said: “There has been a significant amount of work at Napier to make improvements to the site.”

Updated: July 22, 2021, 3:07 PM