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Council to write to Home Office calling for closure of asylum centre at barracks

Folkestone & Hythe District Council held a vote confirming its objections to the Kent site which has been described as ‘not fit for purpose’.

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The local council covering the Napier Barracks holding centre for asylum seekers is set to write to the Home Secretary calling for its closure.

Folkestone & Hythe District Council held a vote confirming its objections to the Kent site which has been widely criticised and councillors have described as “not fit for purpose”.

Members of the local authority voted 23 in favour of the motion, with two opposed and four abstaining.

Council leader David Monk said that he, along with Damien Collins MP, had held talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Archbishop of Canterbury about the centre.

The Conservative councillor said: “The archbishop is of the same opinion as us, that it’s not suitable.”

Labour councillor Connor McConville, who proposed the motion, said: “I believe the decision to use the barracks in this manner has caused a breakdown in cohesion in our community. It’s not fit for purpose and should be closed.”

Councillor Douglas Wade, from the Green Party, said: “The Home Office has behaved disgracefully here without properly consulting people and without providing proper accommodation and I hope those responsible for that will be brought to account.”

People seeking asylum – Napier Barracks
Napier Barracks in Folkestone (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The motion stated that the “council believes that the residents of the barracks have received limited provisions of food, water, medical supplies and treatment”.

It continued: “That Covid has severely exacerbated the problems in the barracks and many of the residents have contracted the virus.

“That the additional restrictions in place due to the presence of Covid has turned the barracks into a prison, not its original function.

“That many questions still remain unanswered with regards to the establishment of the barracks, the role of the organisation contracted to operate them and causes of a number of events that have occurred on the site.”

The council action comes as it was revealed at a Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday that 178 people in the barracks had tested positive for Covid-19 in January and 19 in February.

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel (Aaron Chown/PA)

Home Office Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft told the meeting that there were dormitories which could house 28 people and in total there were now 61 people in the barracks after several were moved out.

Asked if she agreed to this number of people being housed in dormitories during the coronavirus crisis, Ms Patel said the decisions were all based on Public Health England advice, using social distancing measures.

But she added: “Within accommodation for asylum seekers, people do mingle, and … it is a fact – when we look at what happened in Napier Barracks three weeks ago – people were also not following the rules.”

Ms Patel said there were plans to stop using hotels to house asylum seekers but stopped short of confirming whether military barracks would continue to be used, as well as looking at other options across the “Government estate”.

The barracks have been used as “emergency” accommodation since September, despite welfare concerns being repeatedly raised by campaigners.

Even before anyone had moved in, Public Health England (PHE) warned the dormitories on the military site were “not suitable” for use, according to court documents.

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