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THE Home Office has confirmed that Napier Barracks is being treated as a pilot for government plans to open mass reception centres for asylum-seekers.
In a letter to SNP MP Alison Thewliss published today, Home Office Minister Kevin Foster said that the dilapidated former army base in Kent would be used until at least 2025, despite inspectors finding serious failings in care, safeguarding and conditions at the site.
Since September last year, Napier has been used to house up to 400 asylum-seekers at a time in shared dormitories, with multiple Covid-19 outbreaks recorded.
The minister said that the continued use of the barracks may influence plans to open large-scale reception centres for up to 8,000 refugees, a policy announced earlier this year as part of the government’s New Plan for Immigration.
Mr Foster said: “Continued use of the Napier site may enable the new processes to be tested and piloted and so inform the final design of how accommodation centres will operate.”
But campaigners have warned that the proposed centres could be damaging to asylum-seekers and accused the Home Office of attempting to “warehouse people.”
Ms Thewliss, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on immigration detention, said: “Details are only now emerging of the Home Office’s intention to extend the lifespan of Napier as contingency asylum accommodation until at least 2025, having disclosed that its use so far is being treated very much as a pilot.
“In addition, the tender process is under way to build a string of new reception centres, with space to accommodate up to 8,000.”
The letter was published as part of an interim report on the APPG’s inquiry into Napier Barracks.
Former residents of the barracks told the committee that they had been warned by camp staff not to speak to the media, campaigners or politicians about conditions at the site, otherwise their asylum claims would be affected.
“These threats had left many residents too frightened to give evidence to the APPG,” the report said.
Calling for the barracks to close, Ms Thewliss added: “The Home Office has acted unconscionably in respect of the duty of care that it has to asylum-seekers and refugees at Napier.
“It has ignored advice and guidance from health authorities and there have been near-negligible improvements since inspectors visited earlier this year.”
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants campaigns director Minnie Rahman said: “This report confirms what we have long known – that the government needlessly shut vulnerable people up in prison-like conditions at great cost to residents’ physical and mental health.
“It beggars belief that, despite this report and a High Court ruling against the site, the government are continuing to place asylum-seekers there.
“It’s time they acted lawfully and reasonably by closing Napier and housing people within communities.”
A Home Office Spokesperson said: “We disagree with the key findings of this report. During the height of an unprecedented health pandemic, to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was required at extremely short notice.
“We have made significant improvements to the site and continue to work ensure that residents are safe, secure and their essential needs are met.
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