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by Bethany Rielly
ASYLUM-SEEKERS held in Napier Barracks were left with “no mental health support” despite a number of “shocking suicide attempts,” the High Court heard today.
Six men who were held at the ex-military camp in Folkestone, Kent, are challenging the Home Office’s use of the accommodation, claiming conditions breached their human rights.
Tom Hickman QC, representing four of the claimants, told the court that an independent report had found seven suicide attempts and seven incidents of serious self-harm.
The lawyer said residents moved into the camp were exposed to conditions which had “serious detrimental impacts on their mental health.”
In a statement read by Mr Hickman to the court, one of the claimants said: “Detainees in the barracks, including myself, have lost hope. I have witnessed people trying to commit suicide because of the conditions here.” He said he saw a man attempt suicide by “slicing his neck with a blade” and knew of at least four others who had tried to hang themselves, saying it has been “terrible for me to witness and they stay here afterwards with no support.”
In written submissions, Mr Hickman said that there was “no mental health support” for residents, with only one nurse on site, who admitted earlier this year he was “struggling” to meet people’s needs.
“The manifest failures in the system are reflected in the fact that detainees were self-harming and there were a number of shocking suicide attempts witnessed by the claimants and other residents,” he said.
The lawyer told the court that the high walls and padlocked gates at the site as well as a curfew had “all the hallmarks of a detention facility.” Such restrictions were a “very significant departure from ordinary asylum accommodation” and had an impact on men’s mental health, he said.
A psychiatric report of one complainant, who had been smuggled to Libya, said he “only started experiencing flashbacks and nightmares since being placed in the camp.”
In January almost 200 men at the site were infected with Covid-19. The Home Office has always maintained that the site is Covid-secure. But Mr Hickman argued that the barracks are “inherently incapable of ensuring Covid security” because of the communal living conditions.
Despite the ongoing concerns about the safety of the barracks, the court heard that 45 new asylum-seekers had been moved in to the site on Friday.
The lawyer noted that “none of the witnesses” for the Home Office said “they consider the accommodation to be safe or adequate … even now.”
The two-day hearing before Mr Justice Linden is due to conclude tomorrow afternoon.
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