We are deeply troubled to learn that Napier barracks will remain in use as asylum accommodation for the next four years. We call on the government to close Napier immediately and ensure all asylum claimants have safe and dignified accommodation within British communities.
This site is prison-like and isolated, utterly inappropriate as accommodation for people seeking asylum and as a context for engaging with an asylum case. Working with people in Napier, we repeatedly see the crushing human impact of accommodation that feels very much like detention. We routinely witness rapid deterioration in mental and physical health. There is correspondingly compelling evidence that accommodating asylum claimants at Napier is harmful. Since it was first opened, there have been repeated and serious failings in even the most basic screening, in communication with people placed there, in provision of healthcare, in COVID-19 precautions and in offering access to legal advice.[i] The site was opened during a pandemic against the advice of public health authorities,[ii] and a COVID-19 outbreak then occurred.[iii] There is now another outbreak.[iv] A high court has found against the Home Office’s decision to use Napier on multiple levels.[v] This situation is both tragic and absurd. The use of Napier as asylum accommodation has been a shambolic failure with vast human cost and of no benefit to anybody. It must be abandoned. Still, the government pushes on.
The government has made use of emergency planning powers in order to extend the current use of Napier.[vi] There is no coherent reason for this. Asylum applications are at comparatively low historic levels,[vii] and evictions from asylum accommodation have, albeit unwisely, recommenced.[viii] This is a craven attempt to avoid scrutiny of a decision that is indefensible. It shows no respect for refugees, for the local community near where Napier is situated, or for the rule of law. At the same time as the government pleads emergency circumstances to circumvent due process in keeping Napier open, it is laying before parliament plans to use centres like Napier on a much wider scale in the Nationality and Borders Bill.[ix] This blatant dishonesty shows an ideological commitment to ghettoising asylum claimants that is willfully blind to humanity and to evidence. Napier must close.
Naomi Blackwell, Detention Outreach Officer, JRS UK
Dr Razia Shariff, CEO Kent Refugee Action Network
Maddie Harris, Director and Founder, Humans For Rights Network
Bobby Lloyd & Miriam Usiskin, Art Refuge
Pete Keenan, Kent Refugee Help
Indre Lechtimiakyte, Legal & Migrant Support Manager,
Kay Marsh, Community Engagement Coordinator, Samphire
Rev Bob Weldon TSSF Vicar, The Trinity Benefice, Folkestone, Diocese of Canterbury
Sally Hough, Drop in Centre Manager
[i] E.g., Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, “An inspection of contingency asylum accommodation: HMIP report on Penally Camp and Napier Barracks November 2020 – March 2021” (July 2021) highlighted poor screening for physical and mental health, poor continuity of healthcare, and poor communication with residents as key issues. In June 2021, the High Court found a COVID-19 outbreak to have been “inevitable” and again found profound failures in screening for vulnerability, R (NB & Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1489 (Admin). For details of issues in access to legal advice and further details on health issues, see the APPG on detention’s inquiry into quasi-detention, oral evidence session 1, available here.
[vi] Planning permission is being extended via a Special Development Order: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/962/contents/made
[vii] Asylum applications in the UK peaked in 2002 at 84,132. They have since fluctuated. In 2018, the UK received 29,504, in 2019, it received 35,737, and in 2020 it received 29,456. In the year ending March 2021, it received 26,903, applications. See House of Commons Research Briefing on Asylum Statistics, July 2021.