A judge has ruled that Napier Barracks failed to meet “minimum standards”. The ex-army barracks in Kent has been used to house refugees since September last year and held over 400 refugees during the second wave of coronavirus.
Campaigners are now calling for the Home Office to close the barracks immediately.
Six refugees won a legal challenge against the government on Thursday to prove that the barracks were inadequate accommodation for asylum seekers.
The High Court found that Tory home secretary Priti Patel’s process for selecting people to be kept there was flawed and unlawful. It also found that residents were unlawfully detained under Covid-19 rules.
The Care4Calais charity said, “We are delighted with this judgement, which follows long months of the government ignoring a mountain of evidence and complaints that the barracks are not only unsuitable, but highly damaging, to vulnerable people entrusted to their care.
“However today Napier Barracks remains in use and our goal must be to get those inside moved to suitable accommodation as soon as possible. Penally was closed and Napier should be too.”
Penally Camp in west Wales was another ex-army barrack that was shut in March following damning reports, and protests from Stand Up To Racism and other campaign groups.
The six refugees who brought the claim regarding Napier were kept in the barracks between September 2020 and February 2021. They were all victims of trafficking and torture.
During a two-day hearing in April, lawyers said that keeping asylum seekers at the barracks was a breach of their human rights and could amount to false imprisonment.
Tom Hickman QC represented four of the six men. He described the camp as “squalid, ill-equipped, lacking in personal privacy and, most fundamentally of all, unsafe”.
Evidence was presented to the court that showed Patel used the dormitory-style accommodation despite advice from Public Health England (PHE) who warned it was not safe during the pandemic.
Mr Justice Linden ruled on Thursday that the Home Office acted unlawfully when deciding the camp was appropriate.
Half of the residents ended up with coronavirus due to Patel’s decision and inadequate precautions.
The judge raised the Covid-19 spread, overcrowding, a lack of ventilation, and the “detention-like” setting, despite the camp housing those waiting to hear about their asylum application.
The judge also found that when the residents were told on 15 January not to leave the barracks without permission, this amounted to unlawful detainment.
He said considering the issues of Covid-19 or fire safety and general conditions, “I do not accept that the accommodation there ensured a standard of living which was adequate for the health of the claimant.
“Insofar as the defendant considered that the accommodation was adequate for their needs, that view was irrational.”
Lawyers from Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG) said despite emptying the barracks in early April 2021 and amid ongoing concerns from public health officials that the site could not be made Covid-19 secure, the Home Secretary began refilling the site.
DPG said residents are sleeping in dormitories of up to 12 people and they understood the intention was to fill the barracks to over 300
A Home Office spokesperson said, “Napier will continue to operate."
Mariam Kemple Hardy from Refugee Action, said, “This judgment vindicates all those who repeatedly told the government that recklessly forcing hundreds of refugees into crowded camps during a killer pandemic was a gamble with people’s lives.”
Anti-racists must now force the Home Office to close the camp, and fight against the racist immigration policies it implements.