Asylum seeker accommodation at a Kent barracks has been slammed in a full report of failings at the camp.
The Napier Barracks in Folkestone was re-purposed as housing to cope with a rise in attempted illegal crossings.
However, that use has since ended after an outcry from MPs, Public Health England, human rights groups and the residents themselves.
Wednesday saw the beginning of a High Court case, being raised by six asylum seekers who stayed in the more than 100-year-old buildings.
As part of the body of evidence, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) issued a full report into conditions at the camp which highlighted many failings.
The High Court heard the housing was "unsafe”, with six asylum seekers who had previously stayed there describing the conditions as “appalling".
An inability to maintain Covid-safe conditions saw almost 200 people test positive during an outbreak at the barracks in January and February.
The report stated: “There were fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office, which had led to dangerous shortcomings in the nature of the accommodation and poor experiences for the residents”.
Staff from the department “were rarely present at either site” and managers at both sites lacked “the experience and skills to run large-scale communal accommodation,” it added.
Among other findings, the report highlighted the following issues:
– The accommodation was “inadequate” and “unsuitable”.
– There were “serious safeguarding concerns”. One person who was identified as a potential victim of trafficking remained there for a further 10 weeks before being transferred. In total, 31 residents had to be moved over health and safeguarding fears.
– People at high risk of self-harm were taken to a “decrepit” isolation block which was “unfit for habitation”.
– Seven people were thought to have self-harmed there and a further seven had “threatened suicide”. One “actively suicidal resident” had remained on the site for more than a month.
– Home Office communication with asylum seekers was “poor” and the “dearth of official information gave rise to misunderstandings and rumours, which had a negative effect on individuals and the collective mood”.
– The lack of privacy, activities and limited information available for asylum seekers had a “corrosive effect on residents’ morale and mental health”.
– Some asylum seekers believed to be children were kept at the barracks for long periods of time before being placed with social services. In one instance, this was for more than two months.
– Staff – who were mainly security guards with backgrounds in nightclub, hotel and retail security or personal protection – were seen to be pleasant and respectful towards the asylum seekers but were “ill-equipped” to deal with the complex problems they faced.