The Home Office ignored advice not to house asylum seekers in the ex-army barracks at Napier in Kent, the High Court has heard.
A case was raised by six refugees on the grounds that the barracks—that housed 400 men together during the pandemic—breached their human rights.
The hearing heard that Public Health England (PHE) raised concerns to the Home Office in September. It said that the dormitories asylum seekers were kept in “were not suitable”.
But the judge, Mr Justice Chamberlain, said the "advice was apparently not followed” after the government went ahead with the plans to repurpose the site two weeks later.
Coronavirus was allowed to tear through the camp and 120 refugees tested positive. Residents were locked down in blocks containing people with both negative and positive cases.
An asylum seeker who caught Covid-19 at Napier told Socialist Worker, “I believe the Home Office decision to put asylum seekers in former army camps was a completely political one.
“They knew some challenges would be made. But even with those challenges, the Home Office could achieve its goal. It is showing asylum seekers who want to come to Britain that this country is not going to be generous to you.”
Counsel for the Home Office said changes have now been made, such as moving four-fifths of the men out. But this was only after legal action was taken.
And following the hearing a Home Office spokesperson still claimed, “The government provides safe, warm and secure accommodation with three nutritious meals served a day, all paid for by the taxpayer."
Note the nasty call to "the taxpayer" that their money is going to these "ungrateful" refugees.
The Home Office also said it had "worked extremely closely with Public Health England to minimise risks of coronavirus and this track record will be robustly defended in court.”
But residents consistently reported on the appalling conditions—especially after they were left with no heating or water for days following a fire last month.
The court also heard that no Home Office official had visited Napier since November despite these complaints.
Home secretary Priti Patel previously claimed it was “an insult” to say the barracks “are not good enough for asylum seekers” when they "previously accommodated our brave soldiers”. The military had not been housed in the site for more than a decade.
The refugee, who has now been moved out of the camp, said, “I think the Home Office underestimated the response of the society and courts.
“And it especially didn’t expect documents to be revealed about the PHE statement and the barracks being unsuitable.”
The court heard that planning experts warned in 2014 that the site did not meet “acceptable standards for accommodation”. And a report found the blocks, built in 1890, “were never intended for long-term use” and demolition was recommended.
The refugee added, “They didn’t think that this would become a legal issue and a scandal for them.
“That’s why the home secretary is still denying the criticisms and saying repeatedly that this place is safe and Covid-19 compliant. Patel can’t believe how far this investigation has gone.
“She thought this might be in the media, but not that they will face legal consequences.”
Stand Up To Racism activists across Britain took part in a day of action yesterday to build for UN anti-racism day events on 20 March.
Fighting for refugee camps to be closed and an end to the Tories’ racist immigration policies must be at the heart of anti-racists’ demands.