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Asylum-seekers held at former army base go on hunger strike to demand ‘basic human rights’

by Bethany Rielly

FIFTEEN asylum-seekers have gone on hunger strike at a former army base in Kent to demand “basic human rights” and a move to “safe” accommodation. 

One of the hunger strikers, who has been living in Napier Barracks in Folkestone for more than three months, told the Morning Star that they are fearful of catching Covid-19 in the overcrowded facility. 

About 400 men are being held behind high fences and barbed wire at the ex-army base, where conditions have been described as “inhumane” and “unsanitary.”

Concerns have also been raised about a lack of access to medical care and legal support. 

In recent days, some of the residents have shown symptoms of the virus and are in isolation in the camp, said the asylum-seeker, who asked to remain anonymous.  

“The main demand is to move us to a safe place,” he said. 

The Home Office has said it is using the base as temporary contingency housing before moving people to houses and flats while their claims are considered.

However, some asylum-seekers have now spent four months at the site and tensions are reaching boiling point. 

“We feel that we are arrested like criminals … and we feel like we are all isolated from the community,” the man said.

“We are not able to do anything, just waiting for a decision from the Home Office, and there’s no response.

“Some [people have been] waiting for four months and there is no news, just eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, and it makes a very negative impact on us.

“We cannot think, we do not know what will happen, we don’t know the future.

“We are calling on the people to try and raise our voices to the government for the basic human rights.”

Last week, another suicide attempt at the barracks was reported, while representatives of healthcare organisations say that they have seen some residents’ mental health and welfare deteriorate during their stay. 

Jennifer Blair, co-head of legal protection at the Helen Bamber Foundation, a charity that works with survivors of torture, human trafficking and extreme abuse, said: “We anticipate that the longer people are living on the site, the worse the impact on them may be. 

“When people first arrived in the camps, they were told they would be moved on in four weeks.

“Instead, there is no move-on plan for many residents and the impact of indefinite placement in these harsh conditions is severe, particularly when considering these cold winter months and the global pandemic.

“Survivors of torture and human trafficking have been stripped of their autonomy in the past and so being kept in a military site surrounded by barbed wire can be retraumatising.”

The hunger strike is not the first the protest by residents against conditions at the camp.

Last Friday, five asylum-seekers began sleeping out in sub-zero temperatures, and have vowed to do the same each night until the Home Office moves them. 

The Home Office has claimed that the camp is Covid-secure, safe, habitable and fit for purpose. 

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