Published: 06:42, 23 January 2021
| Updated: 06:46, 23 January 2021
An MP has demanded the immediate closure of barracks being used to hold asylum seekers in 'atrocious' conditions.
Rosie Duffield's intervention comes the day after people living at the facility wrote an open letter describing what they say are wretched standards of health and cleanliness.
The letter claims 120 people living at the military camp, which was set up by the Home Office last year to house asylum seekers, are now positive with Covid-19.
Ms Duffield, MP for Canterbury and Whitstable, said meetings had taken place yesterday involving the Bishop of Dover, the Kent Refugee Action Network and others to discuss the situation.
She has now written to Home Secretary Priti Patel demanding the immediate closure of the barracks.
Ms Duffield added: "We received first hand information that conditions are atrocious. In the middle of a deadly pandemic, up to 28 people are having to share a single dormitory, with two showers and two toilets between them.
" It is thought that more than 100 of the refugees are currently infected with COVID-19, but the true number may be even higher. Access to medical care is very limited with a single nurse visiting the compound once a day and only able to prescribe paracetamol.
"In the past, refugees have been housed in homes within communities and they were able to benefit from the generosity of local people and a welcoming community around them, while their asylum claims were being processed. Charities are now being asked for food and even soap - the most basic necessities.
"The processing of applications for refugee status has been considerably slowed down, even before the Coronavirus pandemic took hold, and the new policies from the Home Office seem punitive for people who are fleeing war, famine and persecution.
"I will be writing to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, to ask that the refugee holding facility at Napier Barracks be shut down with immediate effect. These conditions are unsanitary and inhumane. As a country that proudly values and respects human rights, we simply cannot let this situation continue."
Ms Duffield's intervention, and the letter from the asylum seekers, followed claims that people living at the barracks were to blame for failing to socially distance.
Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: "Despite our best efforts a number of those accommodated at the site have tested positive for coronavirus and are self-isolating.
"It is incredibly disappointing that prior to this a number of individuals refused tests and have been either refusing to self-isolate or follow social distancing rules, despite repeated requests to do so and these being national guidelines to protect the NHS and save lives.
"These individuals could face enforcement action and are not only risking their own health but the health of staff looking after them and the communities who are accommodating them."
Those claims were disputed in the open letter from those at the barracks.
They wrote: "Napier Barracks has 16 blocks to house 400 asylum seekers. Three of these have separate private rooms but the 13 others are housing around 28 people each.
"These 28 people share one space to sleep next to each other with partitions in between which are open from the top and curtains to secure some kind of privacy.
"But we all share one space. We breath in one room and there is no way we can practise social distancing. Moreover, these 28 people in one block share two toilets and two showers in total.
"They also provided extra toilets and showers outside of each block but they are either out of order or have poor hygiene. "Meals are usually served in the communal dining room and we all have to wait in queue to get food three times a day, so we all share one space to eat as well.
"By mentioning these facts we want to raise the awareness [of the society] that social distancing is not practicable here."