Published: 16:01, 08 March 2021
| Updated: 09:19, 09 March 2021
Pictures have been released alongside a damning report which reveal the "inadequate" and "impoverished" living conditions at military barracks where hundreds of asylum seekers have been housed.
The photos have been unveiled by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), which carried out a site visit of Napier Barracks in Folkestone last month.
The centre has been used by the Home Office to temporarily accommodate around 400 men seeking asylum in the UK since September last year.
Government body ICIBI, which carried out the two-day inspection with officers from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), have now released the key findings from the visit.
This includes photos which show mattresses on the floor and white sheets dividing other beds.
Another room, described as an isolation room, shows damaged brickwork and peeling paint and was described as "unfit for habitation" by the ICIBI.
The report says there were "fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office" when arranging for Napier Barracks to be turned into contingency asylum accommodation - including consultation with local stakeholders such as health care providers.
The document states: "They were given insufficient time to prepare before the first asylum seekers arrived and there seems to have been little understanding or regard on the Home Office’s part of what impact this would have at the local level."
The report adds that the Home Office gave its contractors "less than two weeks" to make the site operational, as well as a second camp in Wales, which has also been inspected.
The report says that on site management structures were "unclear" and managers lacked experience and skills to run such accommodation centres. It says Home Office staff were rarely present.
Public Health England also expressed concerns about the "multi-occupancy dormitory-style accommodation" and raised fears over Covid-19.
The report from ICIBI notes: "Given the cramped communal conditions and unworkable cohorting at Napier, once one person was infected a large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable.
"In our resident survey at Napier, none of those who responded felt they had been kept safe from Covid-19."
It is also reported that the Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate raised "serious concerns" about fire safety at Napier.
The report from ICIBI also states that the Home Office was "slow to recognise the impact" on residents of "prolonged isolation in accommodation that was not designed or intended for long-term stays".
Many asylum seekers told inspectors they felt "depressed and hopeless at their circumstances" and "trapped".
The report states: "In our resident survey, all of those who responded at Napier and the vast majority at Penally [in Wales] said they had felt depressed at some points.
"At both sites about a third of respondents said they had mental health problems; about a third of respondents at Napier said they had felt suicidal.
"We had serious safeguarding concerns in relation to Napier. There was inadequate support for people who had self-harmed.
"People at high risk of self-harm were located in a decrepit ‘isolation block’ which we considered unfit for habitation.
"Residents who may have been children were also housed in the same block pending an age assessment; in one case we were told that this had been for up to two weeks."
During the Covid outbreak at Napier, the men were confined to their billets for four weeks and unable to go outside expect for the washroom, and were threatened with arrest if they left the camp, the report stated.
In one incident, a man was forcibly returned to the camp by the police.
Residents also reported being "shouted at and intimidated by protestors and members of the public who did not want them there".
Distress was further created among residents by not knowing how long they would remain at Napier and not having a date for their substantive asylum interview.
In the report, the environment at Napier is described as "impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation".
"Cleanliness at both sites was variable at best and cleaning was made difficult by the age of the buildings", the report noted. "Some areas were filthy."
Although residents had access to a phone and the internet, they had "little to do to fill their time, a lack of privacy, a lack of control over their day-to-day lives, and limited information about what would happen to them", which had an effect on their mental health.
A full report on the findings is expected to be published by the ICIBI in the future.
Charities and MPs have been calling for Napier Barracks to close ever since it opened last year.
It follows many protests and demonstrations at the camp, including one where fake blood was thrown at the gates.
Another inspection of Napier Barracks was carried out by the NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in January, and also found it was unsuitable.
A Home Office spokesman said: "As the Home Secretary has set out, our asylum system is broken. That is why we will bring forward proposals which are fair but firm.
“During these unprecedented times we have met our statutory duty to provide asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, with suitable accommodation and three meals a day all paid for by the British taxpayer.
“We expect the highest possible standards from our service providers and have instructed them to make improvements at the site."