The Napier Barracks: relocation and scandal

The Napier Barracks, the accommodation in Kent that currently houses 400 asylum seekers, is plagued by evidence of dire conditions and evidence this week reveals that the government are attempting to hide the brutal reality of the accommodation. 

The government has actively targeted and mistreated asylum seekers for too long. As noted by this mini-series, evidence mounts every single day that the Napier Barracks is a violation of human rights.

Fortunately, asylum seekers are slowly being moved into safer accommodation, but there is still a long way to go for every man to be able to safely self-isolate and be given adequate shelter. The poor accommodation is made even more shocking when compared to the profit that the management company are making from the Napier Barracks. 

3rd February 2021: Asylum seeker carried back into the Napier Barracks by two police officers.

Kent Police have been criticised for using force on an asylum seeker as they carried him back into the barracks. He had reportedly been told to self-isolate but had left the barracks.

The footage has been met with considerable criticism. One human rights lawyer, for example, commented that it was unlikely that the police were legally allowed to use force on the man. It would only have been legal if the man had been given ‘formal notification to self-isolate.’ But there have been no claims for any formal notification.

Kent Police defended themselves by explaining that ‘service users at the Napier Barracks site are currently required by law to self-isolate within the grounds of the site following a localised outbreak of Covid-19.’ But it is impossible to self-isolate when sharing a room with so many others. Also, the way in which they were carrying him looks more forceful than necessary.

Meanwhile, the Home Office has declined to comment, which suggests that the police were wrong. The government cannot criticise the police because that could signify them admitting that an asylum seeker has been mistreated and they should improve the conditions.  

3rd February 2021: Internal documents show that asylum seekers in the Napier Barracks were placed so that the public perception of the immigration system would not be damaged.

This is truly shocking. The Independent revealed that asylum seekers were placed inside the Napier Barracks so that the government can perpetuate the image that they are ‘harsh’ on immigration. It is disgusting that the government put their ‘political image’ before their humanity. Worse, they have created a political image that pleases a misguided prejudice fuelled by anger and hatred of ‘the other.’

The assessment states that ‘any provision of support over and beyond what is necessary to enable the individuals to meet their housing and subsistence needs could undermine public confidence in the asylum system and hamper wider efforts to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the general community and amongst other migrant groups.’ It is so misguided to believe that providing the bare minimum accommodation quality would help ‘tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the general community.’ By treating asylum seekers as criminals, the government is furthering prejudice. The best way to tackle prejudice and promote understanding would be to treat asylum seekers with compassion and provide information to the wider community about what these people have been forced to face. Talking about asylum seekers like they are human beings would also be a good step.

In a September 2020 community meeting set up by Folkestone and Hythe District Council, Deborah Chittenden, director of borders, immigration and citizenship system at the Home Office, explained that ‘Many have risked their lives to get here. They are not criminals, they are not being detained. ‘This is about providing appropriate support and accommodation as part of the process.’ This is how the government must present asylum seekers. This is how the government can reduce prejudice. The Home Office must follow up these words with action that supports it.

It is so clear (and so predictable) that housing asylum seekers in the Napier Barracks like they are criminals, has increased prejudice.

Any justification of the Napier Barracks being of suitable quality for this group of targeted people is completely void. These documents show that the government did not consider the accommodation quality but actively worked to provide the bare minimum.

3rd February 2021: The first man relocated from the Napier Barracks

Three days after the fire, the high court ruled that an asylum seeker must be urgently rehoused after hearing evidence about the unsafe and unsanitary conditions – the man was sleeping on a mattress after the fire in a room of 14 men with little heating. He is also a potential victim of trafficking.

5th February 2021: Clearsprings Ready Homes, the company that runs the army barracks is set to make huge profit

This is further evidence of abusing and profiting from the rights of asylum seekers. According to The Guardian, Clearsprings Ready Homes are set to earn up to £1 billion over ten years for its government work.

Clearsprings Ready Homes have claimed that the accommodation will contain TVs, Wifi, interpreters, and information in several languages. According to all residents’ accounts, the reality is far from this.

The same company also ‘crammed’ asylum seekers into west London accommodation that was full of cockroaches, rats, and mice. The dire conditions were exposed in August 2019, and a Home Office spokesperson responded that, ‘we are taking urgent action to ensure the provider is meeting the terms of their contract.’ Clearsprings Ready Homes clearly did not meet the terms of their contract 18 months ago, so it is appalling that the government has continued to fund them.

There are countless other episodes where Clearsprings Ready Homes have horribly violated their ‘contract,’ such as forcing asylum seekers in Cardiff to wear red wristbands to identify themselves and profiting from homeless people.

The Home Office must be further criticised for continuing their contract with Clearsprings Ready Homes, which is ‘effectively just an asylum profiteer,’ as well as paying the company obscene amounts of money – most recently, £68.7 million for 2020. The ‘taxpayers of this country’ therefore, are funding the Home Office’s poor management choices. 

They have repeatedly abused their contract. Their contract should have been terminated a long time ago.

5th February 2021: The second man relocated from the Napier Barracks

Two days after the first man was moved, the high court ruled that another asylum seeker must be urgently rehoused after hearing evidence about the appalling conditions. The man was a victim of torture. The gates of the barracks had been locked since mid-January so the men could not leave the site, marking another broken promise from the Home Office.

This is not a United Kingdom: the Home Office are intent on excluding people who have suffered.

A country to be proud of is one where people are treated humanely and compassionately. A country to be proud of is one where people are given equal opportunities. A country to be proud of is one where all are treated like human beings. This is not happening.

The Napier Barracks must be closed.

All asylum seekers must be rehoused in better quality accommodation.



Image: Joanna Penn on Flickr

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