An internal document has shown that government health officials have warned that Napier Barracks in Kent could become a site of ‘reoccurring or enduring’ Covid transmission. Due to this information the transfer of asylum seekers to the barracks has been suspended.
There was a large Covid outbreak at the barracks in January and February, with almost half of all its occupants – approximately 197 people – infected.
The Home Office, however, has insisted it is not closing the barracks and more than 200 asylum seekers are now accommodated there. The decision not to transfer new residents shows there is a significant shift in government policy, which has been steadily refilling the barracks after emptying them due to the outbreak.
Six asylum seekers, earlier this month, won a legal challenge against the government after a judge ruled their accommodation in the barracks failed to meet a minimum standard.
The decision to suspend new transfers to the barracks has emerged in the course of a new legal challenge against the Home Office claiming that conditions in the accommodation are still of grave concern.
An internal document from the Department of Health and Social Care’s Joint Biosecurity Centre, released under freedom of information laws, says of the plans to repopulate Napier after the Covid outbreak: “Clearly repopulating to its full capacity is a nonsensical approach”.
It raises concerns about the site becoming an area of ‘reoccurring or enduring transmission’ and says the risks at Napier have not gone away due to the continued use of shared dormitory accommodation, with about 12 people understood to be sleeping in each room.
“The Home Office still thinks it is sensible to repopulate to 399 despite that going against advice given over the last few weeks” the document adds. There are currently thought to be approximately 230 asylum seekers in Napier.
Emily Soothill of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors and Clare Jennings of Matthew Gold & Co solicitors, who are bringing new actions against the Home Office about the conditions at Napier, welcomed the Home Office’s decision to suspend new transfers to the barracks but said that those remaining at the barracks were at continuing risk of infection.
Founder of Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, said: “The Home Office should never have moved refugees into Napier. Our team has seen first-hand the damage the barracks has done to people who have already experienced trauma and are under unspeakable pressure”.
A Home Office spokesperson said they made no apology for providing asylum seekers with a secure place to stay during the pandemic. “At all times during the pandemic we believed we took reasonable steps to give effect to the advice from the health authorities. Significant improvements have been made to the site, including improved accommodation and more outdoor and recreational activities”.
“We acted on advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre regarding further preventative measures that we could take at the site. Asylum seekers are free to come and go as they please and significant improvements have been made to the Napier site, including improved accommodation, more outdoor and recreational activities, additional coronavirus tests and reduced capacity, and individuals are screened for vulnerabilities before being placed on site”.