Original article from Kent Live
The High Court today (June 3) found Priti Patel's Home Office acted unlawfully by housing asylum seekers in Napier Barracks, near Folkestone.
The barracks have long been the subject of heated debate, after Public Health England warned the Home Office last September that plans to house hundreds of asylum seekers were unfit for purpose.
A report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons stated that the conditions were "unfit for habitation" – a fact made more troubling when those housed at Napier are not criminals, but are awaiting the verdict on their claims as refugees.
The verdict has left the future of the site hanging in the balance, as critics' views that the barracks were unfit for purpose have been given undeniable weight by the ruling against the Home Office.
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The two day hearing in April saw the lawyers for the asylum seekers argue that the barracks' conditions were a violation of basic human rights and could amount to false imprisonment.
Mr Justice Linden ruled in favour of the men and found the Home Office acted unlawfully when deciding the former military camp was appropriate.
Kent Refugee Action Network's Bridget Chapman said the ruling "vindicates all of the groups that have been saying that Napier needed to close, from organisations like ours [KRAN], right up to organisations like the British Red Cross."
Chapman said that the Home Office's repeated refusal to recognise the mounting criticisms of the use of the barracks was akin to "gaslighting," a form of abuse where the perpetrator repeatedly insists the victim's memory is false, or that they are making things up.
'Made to feel like they were going mad'
She said: "Many have been victims of torture, they've been placed into a military facility which was re-traumatising for them, and they were then made to feel like they were going mad.
"They were placed in a situation where the judge said it was – and he used this word – 'inevitable' that there was going to be a COVID outbreak."
An outbreak of coronavirus in February saw the virus spread to 197 of the barracks' residents – which is more than half of the total capacity of 380 people.
Bridget Chapman continued: "Those people who are vulnerable, who deserved to be in a safe place, were put in a place that the Home Office are still outrageously insisting is safe.
"Nobody should be housed in those conditions, let alone extremely vulnerable people."
The Home Office's response to the ruling flatly denied that it would effect its use of the barracks.
In spite of the damning nature of the verdict, a spokesman said the "next steps" were being considered.
They said: "During the height of the pandemic, to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was required at extremely short notice.
"Such accommodation provided asylum seekers a safe and secure place to stay. Throughout this period our accommodation providers and sub-contractors have made improvements to the site and continue to do so.
"It is disappointing that this judgement was reached on the basis of the site prior to the significant improvement works which have taken place in difficult circumstances."
Chapman pointed out that litigation from those housed at Napier couldn't be ruled out for the future.
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She told KentLive: "It opens a way to possible legal claims – possible claims of damages for the people housed there – and I would absolutely not blame them for taking that route.
"I think, more than anything, they're just delighted to have been shown that they were absolutely right in the fact that they should have never been placed there."
Following the widespread COVID outbreak at the barracks, reports of residents attempting suicide, and protests from the wider community, Chapman cannot see the response from the Home Office being the end of the debate.
Furthermore, she disagrees with their insistence that changes have been made, making the ruling irrelevant.
"That is not the experience of the NGOs [non-governmental organisations] working with people who are housed in the barracks – our experience is that very little has changed," she said.
"If it was illegal to house people there before, it's illegal to house them there now.
"I would imagine that if the if the Home Office are relying on some small changes that have been made, there will be another legal challenge going in to finally make sure that the Home Office close this down."