Published: 19:37, 11 February 2021
| Updated: 20:05, 11 February 2021
Church leaders have written an open-letter to the Home Secretary calling for Napier Barracks in Folkestone - which is being used to house asylum seekers - to be closed.
The letter has been penned by more than 30 leaders from across denominations, including the Bishop of Durham and several Anglican bishops and Christian leaders from across the country.
The Bishop of Dover and the Bishop in Canterbury, The Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin was among those to sign.
Around 400 men seeking asylum in the UK have been housed at the military barracks since September.
But tensions have risen over the last few months, with people housed there and charities complaining of cramped and unhygienic conditions.
Now, the church leaders are doing the same, calling the arrangement at Napier "insensitive" and "irresponsible".
The letter reads: "We have watched with growing concern events unfold at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent and are extremely concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers housed across Ministry of Defence sites.
"As you know, in the absence of safe and legal routes to apply for refugee status outside the UK, many have no choice but to make a dangerous and perilous journey to seek safety from conflict, persecution, and violence.
"After such a traumatic journey, having had to often spend time behind wire fences in refugee camps, it is simply insensitive to house people in such environments.
"In a global pandemic it is nothing short of irresponsible and risks the lives of residents and staff alike.
"Even as a temporary measure, ex-military barracks are unfit for purpose and entirely inappropriate.
"Requiring members from different households to use and live in shared facilities greatly increases the risk of infection and residents cannot be held responsible for virus transmission rates when social distancing is not possible."
It continues: "We are therefore calling for an immediate end to the use of military barracks as accommodation for those seeking sanctuary in the UK.
"It is not a fair or justified response to your legal duty to house asylum seekers who would otherwise become destitute."
The letter asks the Home Office - which is responsible for supporting people who seek asylum in the UK - to confirm they will not "expand the use of military barracks for contingency accommodation".
It goes on to say: "We do appreciate the unprecedented pressures the government is facing to provide accommodation to those who are awaiting a determination of their status, following the welcome decision not to evict people from asylum accommodation through a period of the pandemic.
"However, a long term sustainable action plan has to be put in place to secure suitable, dignified dispersal accommodation.
"Steps to speed up accurate processing of asylum applications will also reduce pressure on the system."
The leaders say they view "all human beings as equal and deserving of respect, dignity and welcome".
They believe accommodating asylum seekers within communities would allow for "better integration and access to support services" and means they are "often no longer seen as 'other' but as neighbours and friends".
The Home Office says it "will respond to the letter in due course once it has been received".
Immigration Compliance Minister Chris Philp added: "Asylum seekers accommodated at these sites have generally come by small boat on dangerous and unnecessary Channel crossings from France, a safe country with a well-functioning asylum system.
"These sites have previously accommodated army personnel and it is wrong to say they are not adequate for asylum seekers.
"We provide safe, warm, secure accommodation with three nutritious meals served a day, all paid for by the taxpayer.
"Asylum seekers are screened before being placed in asylum accommodation for vulnerabilities and safeguarding issues and if necessary and appropriate, will be placed in alternative accommodation."
This is not the first open letter that has been written in regards to the barracks; last month asylum seekers addressed the British public about the conditions at the centre.