Hunger strike due to conditions at Kent barracks

The Home Office have been urged to close the temporary accommodation for asylum seekers, at a former army barracks in Kent after allegations have been made regarding overcrowding and very poor hygiene.  Hundreds of asylum seekers are reportedly on hunger strike as conditions at the site are worsening.

Approximately 400 men are being held at the Napier barracks site near Folkestone, which has been used as temporary accommodation since September and calls for closure have been made after allegations of cover ups, poor access to healthcare, legal advice and crowded conditions.

About 350 men went on hunger strike this week at the barracks to protest the lack of information on their asylum claims, the impact of crowding on their risk of catching Covid-19 and poor hygiene.  Pictures and videos have been shown showing broken toilets and out of order sinks in the bathrooms.

Some men have been refusing to sleep indoors and are outside in freezing temperatures in sleeping bags.  Kent police have recently been called to assist the South East Coast Ambulance Service with a medical incident.

Dozens of residents staged a protest at the gates of the barracks shouting ‘freedom’ and hoisting banners with warnings about lack of social distancing and mental health problems, as police officers watched.

Founder of Care4Calais, Clare Moseley said: “We’re extremely worried about the asylum seekers held in Napier barracks.  The conditions they are being kept in are cramped, stressful and dangerous.  Asylum seekers have fled terrifying dangers, wars and persecution.  They need support and protection instead our government is treating them with cruelty”.

“The Home Office can quickly solve this crisis by processing asylum seekers claims.  They want to work, settle in this country and contribute to society. Processing their claims would give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives instead of keeping them in this cruel limbo, and remove the need for unsafe short-term asylum housing”.

A human rights campaigner who runs Rosa Parked’s Journey, a mobile support service for refugees and asylum seekers, Adam Yasir, said: “The Home Office should shut Napier barracks down, and asylum seekers should be relocated to suitable accommodation to integrate in society while their asylum claims are assessed”.

“The Home Office should provide adequate mental health support to those who are suffering from mental health illnesses right now in the camp.  They should also provide a timeline of how long asylum seekers will be at Napier barracks, as the majority of them have been there since September 2020”.

The Home Office has commissioned Clearsprings Ready Homes to run the site, but the company has subcontracted at least some responsibilities for day-to-day management to a letting agent and property management firm called NACCS.

Volunteers have been refused access to the site due to a high number of coronavirus cases.  Kent is one of the worst hit areas of the country and is where the new, more transmissible variant of Covid-19 was first detected.  Folkestone and Hythe, where the site is located, has a case rate of about 770 cases per 100,000, above the average for England.

A volunteer has said that it has been too long being in a prison-like environment, they are starting to lose all hope.  They need privacy and space to be able to safely social-distance.

The immigration compliance minister, Chris Philp, said: “The government takes the wellbeing of asylum seekers extremely seriously.  We provide asylum seekers with safe, warm, Covid secure suitable accommodation where they receive three meals a day whilst their claims are being processed.

“They are not detained and are free to come and go in line with Covid-19 restrictions.  We have a robust complaints process where the people who we support or people representing them can raise concerns if they are not rectified through the 24/7 helpline run by Migrant help”.

“Those at Napier have generally come from France by small boat.  This journey is not only dangerous, but unnecessary – France is a safe country with a well functioning asylum system.  Migrants should not make this journey in the first place”.