Original article from Kent Live
Napier Barracks has maintained its status as the focus of notoriety – and has just accepted a new cohort of refugees and asylum seekers.
The former military base, just outside Folkestone, has been heavily criticised by a number of organisations for the quality of the facilities.
It's viability remains under scrutiny following the closure of a similar military base in Penally, Wales. This was also questioned for failing to provide adequate housing for its refugee residents.
The Home Office has been at odds with organisations like Public Health England, the British Red Cross and the Chief Inspector of Prisons over the decision to use military bases as refugee accommodation.
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However, it appears that the government will continue to use Napier to house those waiting to hear rulings on their asylum claims. But why?
Why was Penally closed?
The base at Penally was scrutinised extensively in a similar manner to Napier Barracks.
A report published by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), addressed both the Napier Barracks and the now closed Penally Camp.
It described the conditions faced by residents as "filthy" in some places, and noted that residents' lack of control over their own lives had a "corrosive effect on residents’ morale and mental health."
The Home Office insists the closure of Penally does not have anything to do with public scrutiny.
Instead, a spokesperson explained that Penally was being closed due to the government no longer having planning permission to use the site for housing refugees.
The law differs in England and Wales on how long the government can request use of certain sites, with Welsh law stating emergency permissions can be granted for six months, whilst English law giving permission for a full year of use.
The discrepancy between Penally and Napier then, appears to be an administrative one, with the Home Office spokesperson going on to clarify that the department was "making use" of the Napier barracks whilst the government was still permitted to house refugees there.
Why are these facilities so controversial?
Napier and Penally were included in a joint report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons which found the sites to be inappropriate for the purpose of housing refugees.
One person living at the barracks told PA: "It's very bad, it's like prison."
Numerous protests have taken place at the sites, both by local activists and refugee support organisations, and by the residents themselves.
Many of these protests have centred on the fact that the residents are not criminals and are not technically incarcerated within the prison system.
Yet they face conditions that draw comparison to the criminal justice system.
Further attention has been drawn to the site after a COVID outbreak saw over 120 residents contract the virus, more than a quarter of the then population of 400.
A fire also broke out at Napier in January 2021, following concerns raised in the Chief Inspector of Prisons report that the fire safety of the site was not up to code.
The barracks at Napier were earmarked for demolition and redevelopment prior to their current use, having been originally built to house soldiers awaiting deployment to the western front in the First World War.
The facility hadn't been used to house military personnel for a number of years prior to 2020.
The Home Office gave only two weeks to contractors to prepare the accommodation for residents prior to opening, presenting "substantial logistical and other challenges."
According to the Home Office, the use of the barracks was needed because of increasing numbers of refugees arriving in the UK.
Critics have questioned whether housing those fleeing war in old military bases was a suitable policy decision, however.
The Home Office has repeatedly stated that the barracks are suitable for purpose:
"Asylum seekers are staying in safe, suitable, COVID-compliant conditions, where they receive three nutritious meals a day."
"They are free to come and go as they please and are subject to the same laws and protections as any other member of society."
The Home Office reportedly ignored Public Health England's criticism of the dormitory-style accommodation at Napier, which saw 28 men sharing a single dormitory.
The Independent has also reported that internal documents suggest the locations were specifically chosen so as to not "undermine confidence" in the UK's asylum system.
The documents, seen by The Independent stated that being "less generous" to those seeking asylum was "justified by the need to control immigration."
And whilst people are freed to leave the camp in the daytime, according to the Home Office, the refugee camp has been targeted by members of the far-right.
Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) spokesperson Bridget Chapman has raised concerns over the isolated location of the camp, which has allowed right wing extremists to harass residents as they leave the facility.
Ms Chapman also raised concerns that keeping refugees separate from the local community was counterproductive to their integration into society.
What have people said about the reopening?
Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said: “It’s terrible to see people moving back into Napier Barracks given all the traumatising effects we have seen it have on vulnerable people.
“When our friends are notified they will be going there, they are shocked and afraid.
“Putting them through this unnecessary stress and fear is wanton cruelty.
KentLive uses the term people when referring to those who cross the Channel and arrive on our shores.
That's because, regardless of their status at the point of entry, those moving from one country to the other are human beings.
You will have seen them commonly referred to as migrants. This is not incorrect.
The UN Migration Agency defines a migrant as – any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of the person’s legal status, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what the causes for the movement are, or what the length of the stay is.
KentLive also refers to people in these circumstances as refugees.
The UN definition of refugees is – people who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.
“Small improvements may have been made but it is still an Army barracks and this induces fear in those fleeing conflict; people are still in shared dormitories which cannot be COVID safe; they are still cut off from communities that can help them."
KRAN spokesperson Bridget Chapman has also expressed surprise and disappointment about the reopening, stating:
"Public Health England advised against it, the Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote a damning report, across the migrant and refugee sector, there is no NGO that thinks it’s a suitable place to house people," she said.
"We were fully expecting they would close this one too [alongside the Penally facility].”
Referring to the use of Napier as a sort of deterrent to those considering crossing the channel, Ms Chapman added: "Somehow, the Home Office believes by giving people such an unpleasant place to stay, that people in France would decide not to make the crossing.
"There are very specific reasons why people are coming here – they are not going to stop, and we have to find a better way of dealing with this because it is shameful."