Published: 11:33, 03 June 2021
| Updated: 16:32, 03 June 2021
A judgment today has ruled the Home Secretary acted unlawfully in accommodating asylum seekers at former military camp Napier Barracks.
Around 400 men were moved into the barracks in Folkestone last September, despite the Home Office being warned by Public Health England that it was unsuitable.
Six asylum seekers who were formerly housed at the barracks have now won a legal challenge against the Government after a High Court judge found their accommodation failed to meet a “minimum standard”.
The men, all said to be “survivors of torture and/or human trafficking”, argued the Home Office is unlawfully accommodating people at the barracks and conditions there pose “real and immediate risks to life and of ill-treatment”.
During a two-day hearing in April, the men’s lawyers said that accommodating asylum seekers at the “squalid” barracks was a breach of their human rights and could amount to false imprisonment.
Today, Mr Justice Linden ruled in favour of the men and found the Home Office acted unlawfully when deciding the former military camp was appropriate.
He said: “Whether on the basis of the issues of Covid or fire safety taken in isolation, or looking at the cumulative effect of the decision making about, and the conditions in, the barracks, I do not accept that the accommodation there ensured a standard of living which was adequate for the health of the claimants.
“Insofar as the defendant considered that the accommodation was adequate for their needs, that view was irrational.”
In early March of this year the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and Her Majesty's Inspectors of Prisons, published a highly critical interim report which found Napier to be impoverished, filthy, and like a detention centre.
It is understood the majority of people living at the site were moved out in April, but more residents have since moved in.
Commenting on the outcome of the judgment, Clare Jennings, director and head of public law at Matthew Gold & Co, who acts for two of the six claimants, said: "We are delighted that the High Court has recognised that the Home Secretary’s decision to accommodate men in Napier barracks was unlawful and irrational and that residents were unlawfully deprived of their liberty.
"The claimants and the other Napier residents endured months of living cheek-to-jowl with hundreds of other men in overcrowded dormitories, without any privacy, at risk of injury from fire and covid-19, which has seriously affected their mental and physical health.
"For months the Home Secretary ignored the complaints and concerns of residents, charities and legal representatives that Napier barracks was unsuitable to house destitute asylum seekers, that vulnerable men were wrongly being sent to the barracks, and that the continued use of Napier was endangering the physical mental health of residents.
"The evidence which emerged during the course of this case shows that the Home Secretary similarly ignored advice from Public Health England and local health protection teams that a Covid-19 outbreak was inevitable, and failed to take action to address serious fire safety concerns, further risking the well-being and health of residents.
"Today, these residents of Napier barracks were finally heard. This judgment confirms that Napier barracks did not provide adequate accommodation for the asylum seekers housed there and should never have been used. Urgent action is now required from the Home Secretary, in light of this damning judgment, to move those men still at Napier to suitable accommodation and to immediately stop the use of the barracks for housing asylum seeking men."
Antonia Benfield, counsel for two of the claimants, added: "Today’s judgment is highly significant in reinforcing the standards of adequate accommodation for those seeking international protection in the UK.
"Since the introduction of contingency asylum support accommodation, there have been a range of concerns about the accommodation, which the Home Office has failed to remedy.
"The accommodation at Napier Barracks has been widely criticised since its inception, and despite repeated concerns being raised about vulnerable asylum seekers being accommodation in such conditions, which exposed them to a risk of harm including Covid-19 infection, the Home Office has failed to acknowledge and act upon those concerns.
"The actions of the Home Office have been stark in circumstances where a significant number of vulnerable men who were not suitable for accommodation in former military barracks were placed there, and where the evidence overwhelmingly supported that the accommodation was unsuitable for a significant majority of residents and resulted in a significant decline in their mental health."
The issue of asylum seekers in Kent has continued year after year. In five days over the last week more than 1,000 were intercepted on the Channel by either French or British authorities.