Stop using UK military barracks to house asylum seekers, MPs urge

Parliamentary group says barracks are 'highly re-traumatising' for victims of torture and trafficking

Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent. PA
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The Home Office is “comprehensively failing some of the most vulnerable people in society” and must stop housing asylum seekers in military barracks, MPs and peers say.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention said its “worst fears” were confirmed that the accommodation was “not only inappropriate, but downright harmful”.

It called on the government to scrap any plans to use similar accommodation on a larger scale across the country.

This year, Immigration Minister Kevin Foster confirmed the Home Office’s plan to keep using scandal-hit Napier Barracks in Kent beyond September when its one-year contract expires.

The measure was initially billed as a temporary solution for asylum accommodation during the pandemic.

But it is now thought that the site, which was lent to the Home Office by the Ministry of Defence last year, could be used until 2025.

The parliamentary group's report says such sites, with prison-like conditions, make them “fundamentally unsuitable” as asylum accommodation and could be “highly re-traumatising” for victims of torture and trafficking.

The group said its inquiry also highlighted “serious operational failings by the Home Office and its contractors in their running of the sites”.

It detailed how people had been subjected to “appalling treatment and conditions”, which left them feeling “dehumanised, exhausted and suffering a profound deterioration in their mental health, in some cases to the point of attempting suicide”.

Group chairwoman Alison Thewliss, the Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow Central, said the report highlighted the “myriad ways in which the Home Office is comprehensively failing some of the most vulnerable people in society".

“Those forced to stay in quasi-detention accommodation have included children, people who have survived torture or trafficking, and other at-risk groups," Ms Thewliss said.

"Our worst fears have been confirmed that this type of accommodation is not only inappropriate, but downright harmful. The Home Office have presided over a litany of failures.

"Not only are the sites unsuitable, but their running and mismanagement of Napier Barracks and other large-scale accommodation units has actively contributed to poor mental and physical health outcomes for residents, with barely existent safeguarding.

“The accounts of witnesses were heart-breaking and painted a picture of misery and a disregard for medical and legal rights.

"It is even more worrying that the Home Office themselves described this situation as a ‘pilot project’, suggesting this is the beginning of a new approach.

"Plans for ‘offshoring’ in the Nationalities and Borders Bill being debated this week certainly imply that there is worse to come, and we should not stand for it."

Asylum seekers in UK struggle in temporary hotel accommodation

 Asylum seekers in UK struggle in temporary hotel accommodation

At more than 130 years old, the Napier Barracks has been dogged by allegations of poor conditions.

An inspection by two independent watchdogs described parts of the barracks as “filthy” and “decrepit”, highlighting “fundamental failures” in housing asylum seekers there.

Six of those previously housed there won a legal challenge against the government as a High Court judge ruled their accommodation was inadequate.

The Home Office has in the past insisted “significant improvements” have since been made and said it would be an “insult” to suggest the site is not fit for asylum seekers as it had been previously used to house military personnel.

This year, almost 200 people at the site contracted coronavirus, leading to accusations that health advice had been ignored.

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

But in July, senior health officials said it was still “difficult to envisage” the site being considered Covid-safe. A month later it emerged that more cases had been identified.

Updated: December 09, 2021, 12:01 AM