MPs and peers have claimed a former military base in Kent is ‘fundamentally unsuitable’ to house asylum seekers and called for its closure with ‘immediate and permanent effect’. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention published their report from a February visit to Napier Barracks on the same day as a debate in the House of Lords challenging legislation last year via which the Home Office granted itself emergency planning permission to use the site until at least 2026.
The APPG found that being accommodated at Napier left many asylum seekers ‘feeling dehumanised and suffering a profound deterioration in their mental health, in some cases to the point of attempting suicide’. A ruling by the High Court in June 2021 held that Napier Barracks did not meet minimum standards for asylum accommodation. TheMPs highlighted inadequate safeguarding of vulnerable people, such as victims of torture and trafficking, with little being done to identify residents who are in need of support; the physical environment described as ‘run-down, isolated and bleak, with many buildings in an extremely poor state of repair’; and ‘a near total lack of privacy and private spaces at the site’ with residents continuing to be accommodated in dormitories of up to 12-14 people. They also flagged inadequate access for residents to healthcare and legal advice and the difficulties faced by those with asylum claims.
‘It was deeply concerning to see how poor the conditions in the Napier Barracks were,’ said Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central and chair of the APPG. ‘Residents in the barracks are living in the most dreadful of circumstances, and this must end. Many of those living in the barracks have fled conflict and have suffered unimaginable trauma – they should be treated with dignity and respect, and allowed to rebuild their lives.’
On the day of the visit there were over 300 men at. ‘The controlling, prison-like nature of the site was very apparent from the point of arrival,’ the report said. ‘Entrance to the site was through a door in a tall perimeter fence manned by a security guard. Once inside, there was an army-style check-point with a barrier and small office manned by a number of additional security guards.’ There were few indoor areas other then the sleeping blocks.
One charity told the visiting MPs that, as far as they were aware, no legal representatives had ever visited the site. Communication with lawyers all took place by phone and ‘poor Wi-Fi connectivity’ made calls difficult at times.
The APPG points out that thei report is published as the government’s controversial Nationality and Border Bill is making its way through Parliament and which includes provisions to open new ‘accommodation centres’ to house up to 8,000 asylum seekers ‘which the government has confirmed may be modelled on Napier’.