“It’s like a prison—but I believe prison is better. At least you know why you’re there and you receive basic needs.” This is what Darius, an asylum seeker forced to live in the dismal ex-army Napier Barracks in Folkestone, told Socialist Worker.
“I really want to be moved out from here,” he said. “It’s not a suitable place for a human being. I don’t need a house or a palace. I would just like a safe room that’s secure and reassurance that I have privacy and safety.”
Darius has been stuck in Napier for more than three months.
“Something terrible happened in my home country Iran,” he explained. “I claimed asylum, now I’m here in Napier.”
Before being taken to the camp, Darius stayed in a hotel room in London for three weeks.
He was transferred but wasn’t told where he was going. “I asked the driver where he was taking me,” said Darius. But I didn’t get a response.
“I think they fear that if they informed people we were being brought here, we would escape. I wasn’t aware of anything until I saw a sign for Folkestone on the road. Then I realised I was coming here.”
Having heard about the camp on the news, Darius said he was “really frightened” about being taken there.
“I’d heard in the news that the camp did not have a good reputation,” he said. “But then I saw what it was like with my own eyes.
“It’s like a prison. There are fences all around, life is under control from when I wake up, and I can only go out if I’m allowed. It was really hard for the first two weeks. I was really depressed—it really affected me.
“I had to sleep in one space next to eight other people. The hygiene was really poor with two toilets between us. I was asking myself—what have I done to deserve to live like this?”
They’re using us as an advertisement to tell others that this place is not as generous as you think
Darius, an Iranian refugee stuck in the Napier Barracks in Kent
Darius is in touch with the charity Migrant Help, which told him he would be in the camp for around a month. “I thought, one month I can bear,” he said. “But when I realised it was more it was really unbearable. It’s not right to keep 400 people in one place in these conditions.
“We’re not asked what we need or want. The camp is not a safe place for people who have suffered a lot in their own country and came here to seek asylum.”
Darius thinks the reason refugees are treated this way is due to racist, right wing policy.
He said this aims “to show asylum seekers all over Europe that the UK is not a hospitable and welcome place for them”.
“They’re using us as an advertisement to tell others that this place is not as generous as you think,” he explained.
“The Home Office sees us as criminals invading their country. They call us illegal immigrants. But how can we claim asylum legally?
“If your life is in danger, you are escaping wars or repression, how can you go to an embassy, get a visa and book flights to get here? It’s not possible.
“We have suffered so many different things to come to a safe country. We wanted to save our lives and not fear persecution.”
But refugees are dumped in the barracks and abandoned—with no idea of how long for.
“Every day I wake up and have nothing to do,” said Darius. “There is no explanation or information from the private company in charge or the Home Office of what happens next.
“I’m in limbo. In a better place it would be a little more bearable. But bad and unsafe conditions mean it’s even more frustrating.
“I took care of myself for a year during the pandemic—I practised social distancing and wore a mask.
Every day I wake up and have nothing to do. I’m in limbo.
“I tested positive here and it’s not my fault. There are 400 people here. It’s unavoidable.”
Darius received no medical assistance after catching coronavirus. “I felt really fatigued, I had pain in my chest, head and ribs,” he said.
“I had a fever and was shivering at night—it was really awful. But I had no pain killers or vitamins. Before lockdown I could go out once a day for two hours. Now we’re not allowed because there’s positive cases inside.”
The refugees have been told they must isolate. But Darius is still sharing a room.
“They’ve said that all the residents have to isolate for ten days and take tests,” he said. “After that if there are no new cases, they will open the gates.
“In the block they’ve moved people out to make isolation possible. But I’m still in a block with five or six people.
“Three are positive and two are negative for coronavirus—so the virus can still spread.”
Refugees in Napier have not been passive victims of the Tories’ inhumane treatment—they’ve fought back. They’ve had to, to try and be heard.
“We have been protesting a lot since the camp opened,” said Darius. “We’ve been on hunger strikes. It’s frustrating when no one notices us. People become more frustrated and can lose control.”
Darius said some refugees have tried to kill themselves “because they can’t be here anymore”. Yet he said, “But nothing happened. It showed us the Home Office or other authorities didn’t really care about our situation.”
Following one protest last month, a fire broke out at the barracks. Darius said it was “inevitable”.
“The Home Office ignored us when we complained in a peaceful way,” he said. “All the staff and security left the camp. When the doctor left, I asked why. He said it was the camp manager’s decision as it was no longer safe.
“I asked how is it not safe for them but it is for us? He didn’t have an explanation.”
Darius said that refugees in the camp were “left completely” for two days following the fire.
“Those days were really horrible,” he said. “The police and guards were in charge of handing out food. Nothing else was provided. We had problems with electricity and water. It was unbelievable.
“I asked myself, are we really in the UK, in a country that protects human rights?
“They’ve now provided two generators for electricity. But the blocks need more than the generators provide.
“We had to drink from the tap in the toilet. They handed out bottled water and food from outside for the first time on Tuesday.”
Darius said asylum seekers have been traumatised by their treatment and by the fire.
“My friend finds it hard being in a military barracks,” he said. “He was a soldier being in the war between Iran and Iraq. When the fire happened it hit him hard, it reminded him of war.”
Darius doesn’t expect to be vaccinated for coronavirus, despite the risks. And this is just one health concern for refugees in Napier.
“A man tried to jump the fence twice to get out,” Darius explained. “The police aggressively forced him back inside the camp.
“I asked why he was doing this. He said had pain in his knees and because there was no doctor he wanted to see one. He was arrested. One of my friends had a toothache and couldn’t see a dentist.
“I got scabies. That’s what happens when you live with so many people. It took me a month to be treated and recover.”
Tory home secretary Priti Patel disgracefully announced the Home Office would pursue legal action following the fire at Napier. Fourteen refugees have since been arrested.
“She is representing a xenophobic and racist side of the country which is not the majority of people,” Darius said.
“If she doesn’t know what the situation is, she’s ignorant. But if she knows and is denying it—it’s cruel.
“How can you sleep at night knowing there are people here from 20 to 60 at risk of getting Covid-19 with so many mental conditions? And you still blame us for what’s happened to us?”
Darius said there is a complete “lack of information” leaving refugees not knowing what’s going to happen next.
“We don’t know when we will be transferred or what is happening with our application process or when our interview will be held,” he said.
“We ask and the camp manager says they don’t know.”
Patel declared that the site was good enough for “our brave soldiers” and so it’s an insult to say it’s not good enough for refugees.
“It’s true the army was living here before us,” Darius said. “But this is their own home country, where they’ve probably got a cosy house and they’re getting paid for doing their service.
“And we’re living here during a pandemic, which the army didn’t. I bet the army would be able to leave here if they wanted.”
Asylum seekers are fleeing places where these same soldiers have carried out atrocities. Some have escaped from poverty-stricken countries that are former British colonies. Refugees are then unwillingly forced into rundown barracks.
Patel reckons she is “fixing our broken asylum system”—but it’s the Tories who broke it.
She showed further disdain for the refugees after claiming the fire was “deeply offensive” to taxpayers. But the camp’s management Clearsprings is set to grab £1 billion over ten years from government contracts.
Clearsprings’ reputation in their hotels and camps is appalling. Refugees have reported lack of food and rodent infestations—so where is taxpayers’ money going?
“The Home Office must not forget people have been here for more than four months,” Darius added. “If we were allowed to work we could pay our own taxes.
“But being kept in a prison-like camp means you cannot work. I used to work before coming here. I was paying tax.
“They have put us in a place that affects us mentally and physically. It seems like a punishment. It’s really important to see people here as human beings, not prisoners or criminals.
“Some were psychologists, teachers, engineers—they can participate in society. Putting them in barracks wastes their knowledge and productivity.
“People are depressed. And they’ve been through difficulties to get here—they’ve suffered.
“So this is double punishment.”
Class struggle toppled apartheid