Published: 17:03, 08 February 2021
| Updated: 17:31, 08 February 2021
Ministers have fended off criticism from MPs over housing asylum seekers at Napier Barracks, insisting it is safe, secure and is better value than hotels - and failing to clarify how long it will be used.
Minister Chris Philp was put on the spot in the Commons today in the wake of a serious fire at the Folkestone site a fortnight ago.
Folkestone MP Damian Collins questioned Immigration Minister Chris Philp
It has been the scene of many protests, both inside and out, over the past months regarding conditions, an issue brought into sharp focus recently when more than 100 people being held their contracted coronavirus.
Kent MPs attacked the government’s use of the former barracks while Labour accused the government of a moral and public health disaster.
Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins has been vocal in his opposition to the use of the barracks site.
He said in the Commons the barracks were not suitable to house asylum seekers for a “prolonged period of time” and sought assurances that their use would be temporary.
“We should avoid using facilities like this in the future,” he added.
Replying, minister Chris Philp said the barracks had been used to cope with the “enormous pressures” in the asylum system caused partly by the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “We have set it up in a way in which it is safe; it is of course accommodation that was previously used by the brave men and women of the armed services. It is not intended to be used in perpetuity.”
But he sidestepped the question about how long the government intended to use the barracks site, suggesting that it was cheaper than using hotels.
He added: “All of us owe a duty to the taxpayer to ensure value for money and we make no excuse for that.”
Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield challenged the government over the widespread concern expressed by many organisations that the accommodation was not suitable.
Listing those who have led calls for the government to scrap using the barracks site, she said: “Does the minister disagree with all those organisations that I have mentioned and believe that they have done an adequate job in providing safe and suitable accommodation for asylum seekers who have in many cases fled war, torture and persecution?”
She also claimed the contractor running the barracks was in line to make £1 billion from its work for the government.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the barracks was safe.
“We are working to ensure that it is safe; it absolutely is. And it is Covid compliant, which it is,” she added.
Fourteen men were arrested following the blaze.
Recently two court orders have been passed requiring the government to urgently move asylum seekers at the barracks over concerns about the conditions.