High Court to rule on challenge to housing asylum seekers in Napier Barracks

A view of Napier Barracks in Folkestone
A view of Napier Barracks in Folkestone (PA Wire)
2:45am, Thu 03 Jun 2021
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Six asylum seekers who brought a legal challenge against “appalling” conditions at Napier Barracks are due to find out if their High Court bid has been successful.

The former army barracks in Kent have been used to house hundreds of asylum seekers since last September, despite the Home Office being warned by Public Health England that it was unsuitable.

The six men, all said to be “survivors of torture and/or human trafficking”, argued the Home Office is unlawfully accommodating people at the barracks and conditions at the camp pose “real and immediate risks to life and of ill-treatment”.

Following a two-day hearing in April, Mr Justice Linden will hand down his judgment on Thursday morning.

During the hearing, the men’s lawyers said that accommodating asylum seekers at the barracks was a breach of their human rights and could amount to false imprisonment.

They also argued the Home Office failed to put in place a process to prevent “particularly vulnerable asylum seekers” from being housed at the barracks.

HMIP/ICIBI highly critical of Home Office asylum seeker housing (PA Media)

Tom Hickman QC – representing four of the six men – described the camp as “squalid, ill-equipped, lacking in personal privacy and, most fundamentally of all, unsafe”, with no mental health support and only one nurse on site.

He also said moving the men to the former Ministry of Defence camp “exposed them to an exceptionally high risk” of contracting Covid-19.

Almost 200 people tested positive for coronavirus during an outbreak at the barracks earlier this year, senior Home Office officials told MPs in February.

The six men’s lawyers told the court at a previous hearing that the Home Office “knew or ought to have known of the impossibility of effective means of controlling or containing infection at the barracks”.

The Home Office defended the claim, saying it took “reasonable steps to ensure that persons who are specifically vulnerable to severe illness or death from Covid-19 are not placed in a congregate setting”.

Lisa Giovannetti QC, for the department, said it “accepts that Napier is unsuitable for long-term accommodation, but it is not intended as such”.

She told the court the Home Office decided to use Napier Barracks “to provide short-term contingency accommodation to single, healthy adult males” in response to “an urgent need to source a significant number of additional accommodation spaces”.

Ms Giovannetti added the Home Office “has taken reasonable steps to ensure that persons who are specifically vulnerable to severe illness or death from Covid-19 are not placed in a congregate setting”.

During the hearing, a report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) into conditions was released following requests by the PA news agency.

The report into the barracks and Penally Camp in Wales found “fundamental failures” by the Home Office, leading to “dangerous shortcomings in the nature of the accommodation and poor experiences for the residents”.

After the court hearings, it emerged that hundreds of people would be moved into the barracks, with plans to increase numbers to more than 300 residents.

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