IN A CRITICAL and damning judgment, the Home Office’s decision to house asylum seekers who had made it across the Channel in a ‘squalid’ barracks in Folkestone was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.
Six asylum seekers brought the case, claiming Napier Barracks was ‘unsafe’ and dormitory use caused a Covid-19 outbreak.
Around 200 of the men held in dormitories of up to 28 contracted Covid-19. There are still 260 people housed at Napier Barracks while their claims are being ‘processed’ and the government has insisted, even after this ruling that the camp remains open. Refugee campaign groups and the men themselves call for the refugee camp to be immediately shut down.
Lawyers said it breached human rights, but the government claimed short-term housing there was ‘lawful’.
The ruling will now see moves for a damages claim against Home Secretary Priti Patel.
It could also lead to further cases from any other men held at the camp who can bring similar evidence to court.
Mr Justice Linden’s judgment looked in detail at a fire that broke out at the site in January, and when 200 people contracted coronavirus during an outbreak at the camp earlier this year.
Mr Justice Linden also criticised the detention-like setting for the men, raising the spectre of further charges of ‘unlawful incarceration’ and ‘false imprisonment’.
He said: ‘They were supposed to live voluntarily pending a determination of their applications for asylum.
‘When this is considered, a decision that accommodation in a detention-like setting – a site enclosed by a perimeter fence topped with barbed wire, access to which is through padlocked gates guarded by uniformed security personnel – will be adequate for their needs, begins to look questionable.’
Lawyers from Deighton Pierce Glynn have made fresh calls for the closure of the site, which they said still housed nearly 300 people.
A statement said: ‘Based on government evidence, the High Court has found that the Home Secretary acted both unlawfully and irrationally in accommodating our clients at Napier Barracks, placing them at risk of a fire and contracting Covid-19, both of which happened.
‘People seeking asylum are more vulnerable to physical and mental illness. They have the right to be treated with dignity and should not be accommodated in detention-style barracks.’
In April, the court heard public health experts had repeatedly raised concerns about the use of the site during a pandemic, while an independent report found seven suicide attempts and seven incidents of serious self-harm.
Tom Hickman QC, representing four claimants, previously told the court the site was ‘squalid, ill-equipped, lacking in personal privacy and unsafe’.
In a statement read to the court, one of the claimants, who was later moved to other accommodation, said: ‘The situation in the camp is very bad and degrading. Detainees in the barracks including myself have lost hope,’ adding that the conditions reminded him of what he had run away from, effectively a prison camp.
‘Human beings should not be kept in conditions like that,’ Satbir Singh, Chief Executive of the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants said yesterday, adding: ‘Much less people who are recovering from the trauma, conflict or persecution and even more so in a pandemic. The Home Secretary was found to have unlawfully, essentially detained people in that facility, knowing full well that it was in breach of Covid guidance. There was a series of Covid outbreaks there. It is a pretty shocking act for the government to have done this and I am relieved that the court has quite vocally, quite forcefully said that this was unacceptable. The government need to shut these barracks down.
‘Asylum applications in the UK were down by nearly a quarter. What the Home Secretary did was that she worked to whip up a public hysteria about a small number of people fleeing persecution, trying to find a safe home here in the UK and on the back of that she detained people. This was not accommodation. The court has found that people were unlawfully detained. That there was false imprisonment which took place. People at points were prevented from leaving that accommodation.
‘There is no excuse for keeping people in conditions like that during a pandemic, hundreds of people caught Covid, You can not lock people up ten to a room during a pandemic, you can’t do that at the best of times. What they have to do right now is close the barracks.’