Asylum seekers housed at the Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, England, walk through the site on … [+]
Immigration advocates handed Britain’s Home Office a petition with at least 45,000 thousand signatures on Friday calling on government officials to stop using military barracks to house asylum seekers.
The petition was delivered to the Home Office as more than 500 people joined a virtual “#CloseTheBarracks” rally, with former immigration minister Caroline Nokes, Holly Lynch, shadow immigration minister, and Stuart McDonald, shadow spokesperson for home affairs, helping lead calls for the Home Office to stop using the Napier barracks in Folkestone, Kent, to house asylum seekers.
“This was a political choice,” Lynch said of the Home Office’s decision to house asylum seekers in military barracks in the first place. “We won’t rest until this type of appalling accommodation is closed,” she promised asylum seekers and advocates present at the rally.
Calls for Napier’s closure came as the Home Office shut down a sister site in Pembrokeshire, Wales, with the last of the asylum seekers who had been housed at the Penally barracks having been moved out of the camp as of Friday.
According to asylum seekers who had previously been housed at the site, its remaining residents have been relocated to alternative accommodations in Cardiff and Swansea.
“As a result of your rallying, protesting and supporting, Penally camp is now closed,” one asylum seeker, who asked that their name be withheld over fears speaking out could impact their immigration case, said at the rally. “We need your continued support to help us close Napier as well,” they said.
On Wednesday, the Home Office announced that while it would be shuttering Penally, it would continue to house asylum seekers at the Napier barracks, despite an inspection of both camps finding them to be “impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation”.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s inspection also found that a recent Covid-19 outbreak at the Napier barracks, which saw nearly 200 asylum seekers at the camp infected with the deadly virus, was “virtually inevitable” due to the dormitory style of accommodations.
It further made clear that the Home Office had pushed ahead with using the dormitories to house asylum seekers, despite warnings from public health officials that doing so would be against Covid-19 guidance, contradicting Home Secretary Priti Patel’s claims that her department had acted in full cooperation with coronavirus guidance.
Continuing to house asylum seekers at the camp, Lynch said, is “not just inhumane – they’ve put people’s lives at risk”.
“At no time did public health authorities ever think this was a good idea,” she said.
In a separate interview, McDonald said he was “horrified” that it “doesn’t appear to be the plan to stop using all military barracks as soon as possible”.
“Obviously, the fact that they seem to have been forced or decided to close Penally is good,” he said. “But this whole agenda of essentially, ‘we are housing asylum seekers in military barracks…should have been binned before it gained any traction”.
“Even a child will tell you that when you are dealing with pandemic like this, when everyone’s going about their business trying to stop it…you just do not use this type of accommodation,” he said.
I am a journalist covering immigration, politics, human rights and social justice issues. Previously, I have worked for Newsweek, The Independent and the Canadian