UK's Napier barracks housing asylum seekers ‘must close with immediate effect’

All-party parliamentary group on immigration detention made call after visit in February

Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent. PA

The Home Office has failed to tackle “fundamental problems” with housing asylum seekers at Napier Barracks and the site should be shut down immediately, MPs and peers say.

The all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention repeated calls for the closure of the 130-year-old military site, which has been the subject of allegations of poor conditions, after a visit in February.

The House of Lords is due to debate how planning permission was granted for the Home Office to use the barracks until at least 2026, despite it originally being billed as temporary accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Residents in the barracks are living in the most dreadful of circumstances, and this must end,” said group chairwoman Alison Thewliss, the Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow Central.

Two watchdogs described parts of the barracks near Folkestone in Kent as “filthy” and “decrepit”, highlighting “fundamental failures” in housing asylum seekers there.

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

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

But during the pandemic, hundreds of people at the site contracted coronavirus, leading to accusations that health advice had been ignored.

The department has since declared the accommodation is safe.

After the visit, the MPs and peers “remain deeply concerned” about the conditions and welfare of those living on the site.

The group was “firmly of the view that Napier and other sites like it are fundamentally unsuitable for use as asylum accommodation, and do not allow a person to engage effectively with their asylum claim”.

Its report called on the government to ensure the barracks was “closed as asylum accommodation with immediate and permanent effect, and that people seeking asylum accommodated at Napier are moved directly to decent, safe housing in the community that allows them to live with dignity”.

“Changes introduced by the Home Office have not addressed the fundamental problems of the site," said the group’s report

"This is despite a ruling by the High Court that the site did not meet minimum standards for asylum accommodation, and numerous and repeated concerns expressed by other bodies including independent inspectors, parliamentarians, charities and residents themselves.”

Last year the Home Office confirmed it would also process and house people, including those who have crossed the English Channel to the UK, for up to five days at part of a disused Ministry of Defence site at Manston Airport near Ramsgate.

“The use of Napier Barracks as contingency accommodation is vital in helping us to accommodate and support destitute asylum seekers," said a Home Office representative.

“Significant works have been carried out to improve the conditions, management and oversight.

"Napier is safe, warm, dry and provides a choice of good hot meals as well as proper laundry, cleaning and multi-faith religious facilities.”

Updated: April 07, 2022, 9:52 PM
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