The UK government has confirmed its plans to continue using a former barracks as housing for asylum seekers until 2025.
Napier Barracks, near Folkestone in south-east England, had been billed as a temporary solution that was due to close by September 2021, but it will continue to operate for several years as record numbers of migrants arrive in small boats from northern Europe.
The new lease of life for the 130-year-old military camp comes after a series of critical reports of conditions there and a legal victory for six asylum seekers after a court ruled it fell below minimum acceptable standards.
It was hit by a major Covid-19 outbreak early last year that campaigners blamed on the large numbers housed in the military accommodation blocks.
“Deeply worrying to see that the Home Office is planning to continue using Napier Barracks, the dilapidated former army barracks judged entirely unsuitable as accommodation for people seeking asylum, for the considerable future,” said the Refugee Council on Twitter.
The move had been expected after the Home Office used its powers to extend the use of the site until 2026 in August amid concerns that migrants would be left homeless when the temporary licence to use the site as asylum accommodation ran out in September.
The department has now started a three-week consultation on the continued use of the site as it expands the number of sites in the area to use for migrant accommodation.
It said last month that a second military base in Kent would be used as a “processing site” to hold migrants for up to five days while security and identity checks are completed.
Napier was used to temporarily house some of the more than 28,000 people who travelled to the UK in 2021 in small boats, three times the number in the previous record year in 2020.
The site has been fierce criticised by campaigners since it opened as a temporary home to up to 350 people in September 2020. Conditions were condemned as filthy by an independent watchdog.
A group of MPs and peers last month called on the Home Office to stop housing asylum seekers in military barracks as it was “not only inappropriate, but downright harmful”.
The all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention’s report said 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 Home Office said improvements would be made to the site with its continuing use. Migrants stay there for up to 90 days and are free to come and go while they go through the asylum process.
The site is scheduled to be handed over to developers in 2026 as part of a plans for nearly 1,000 new homes.