On Friday last week I joined a special meeting organised by Folkestone and Hythe District Council to discuss the use of Napier Barracks at Shorncliffe as temporary accommodation for people who are having their asylum claims assessed. I have expressed my concerns about this decision before, and in particular the lack of notice or consultation from the Home Office before they agreed a one year lease on the barracks with the Ministry of Defence. I still remain of the opinion that creating a hostel style open camp for over 400 asylum seekers in the heart of a residential community was the wrong decision. However, now that Napier Barracks is being used for this purpose, it is important that our local public services work together with the operator of the facility in order to ensure things run as smoothly as possible.
Last Friday’s meeting brought together the District Council leader David Monk, the leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough, along with Deborah Chittenden, the Director leading on this policy at the Home Office, the divisional commander for Kent Police, the operator of the temporary hostel at Napier Barracks and other experts who will be working with the asylum seekers whilst they are onsite. This provided an excellent opportunity to discuss many of the concerns that have been raised by local residents.
Firstly, the Home Office were able to confirm that Napier Barracks will only be used for single men, not women or families, and there will be no unaccompanied children onsite. Everyone who is accommodated there will have been in the UK for at least two weeks from their arrival, so will have completed their COVID-19 quarantine period. The first people to arrive last week had previously been in Home Office provided accommodation in London and Luton. Those rooms have now been made available for other asylum seekers.
Napier Barracks is an open facility, and it would be against the law to detain asylum seekers by securing the site. Whilst they can come and go as they like, they are required to spend the night in the barracks. All of the meals for the asylum seekers will be provided at Napier, and as such they will not be given any money. There will be an onsite healthcare team provided by the Home Office to deal with any immediate requirements. Whilst this facility could remain at Napier for up to a year, the government hopes it will close before that time.
We have also discussed with the government why this measure is needed at all, and the answer, like so many other things, is related back to COVID-19. Once asylum seekers have had their case assessed those that have failed to meet the criteria to stay in the UK are returned. Due to the limitations on travel during the last few months there have been far fewer returns made and this has required additional capacity to accommodate people. However, once the backlog of cases has been cleared, there will no longer be a need to use temporary facilities like Napier Barracks.