Published: 14:34, 13 September 2021
| Updated: 14:17, 14 September 2021
A woman is taking the Home Office to court over its plans to keep housing asylum seekers at 'unsuitable' Napier Barracks for a further five years.
The army barracks in Folkestone was transformed into accommodation for single, adult men seeking asylum in the UK last September, with more than 400 people living there at one point.
The Home Office initially said the arrangement was temporary - 12 months in total - but it has now announced plans to keep it open for another five years, despite repeated calls for its closure.
Now, a woman who volunteers at the site, has instructed solicitors to challenge the Home Office's decision, which was made possible under a Special Development Order.
Daniel Carey, partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn, said: "We are instructed by a local Folkestone resident and volunteer at Napier Barracks to challenge the Home Office’s decision to grant itself planning permission to continue using Napier Barracks as asylum housing until September 2026.
"As a Napier volunteer they are very concerned about the conditions at the camp, which continue to be very poor, about the isolating effect of the camp on the residents, and at the numbers of vulnerable people who are housed there, despite Home Office assurances that it would screen-out trafficking victims and mentally vulnerable people this continues to occur regularly.
"But as a local person she is also concerned about the way local democracy has been bypassed by the Home Office’s actions, and previous promises that the use would be temporary have been broken."
The woman, who has chosen to stay anonymous, has already sent a pre-action letter to the Home Office which she sets out why the grant of planning permission is unlawful.
In summary, it claims the granting of planning permission is unlawful because there was no environmental impact opinion, no consultation and it is in conflict with the existing emergency permission, which required a full planning permission to follow for continued use.
Mr Carey added: "If the case succeeds then the planning permission would be quashed and the Home Office would have to recognise that the use of the site has to cease."
The woman has now launched a crowdfunder for the claim and needs to raise £5,000 to cover costs. There is also a deadline of September 21.
The fundraiser reads: "The Home Secretary has just decided, without consultation, to continue using Napier Barracks as asylum accommodation until 2025.
"Planning permission was due to expire on September 21 2021. That should have been the end of the use of these ageing barracks as divisive and demeaning accommodation for asylum seekers.
"But Priti Patel has just granted herself her own planning permission to reverse all that.
"The many problems at Napier Barracks are well documented.
"The High Court also recently found that the operation of the barracks was unlawful. But on top of all this, Priti Patel has just overridden planning law by trying to grant herself her own planning permission
"The barracks should therefore close, and people seeking sanctuary should be accommodated in safe, community-based accommodation with free access to help and support. Local people should be involved in this process, and not ignored.
"I am taking Priti Patel to court, but I need your help."
Inspections carried out at the barracks described the living conditions as "inadequate" and "impoverished". There have also been reports of asylum seekers becoming depressed, suicidal and self harming.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention, which has been carrying out an inquiry into the use of military barracks to house asylum seekers, published an interim report which it said highlighted the “alarming” conditions reported by those who have lived in the buildings as well as concerns from the charity and other aid workers who support them.
The findings said witnesses reported “unsanitary, crowded, prison-like” conditions and raised a range of concerns about the welfare of those living there and the support available to them.
The Home Office says the use of Napier Barracks will "remain under review" and says it has made "significant improvements to the site" since September 2020.
Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Kevin Foster said: "The unprecedented and unacceptable rise in dangerous and illegal small boat crossings and the Covid-19 pandemic continue to put pressure on our asylum system.
"As we work to reform the broken asylum system, we must ensure we have sufficient capacity to meet our statutory duty to provide support to genuine and destitute asylum seekers.
"Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system; allowing us to welcome people through safe and legal routes, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it."
To hear from those living in the shadows of Napier Barracks, click here.
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