Claimants argue accommodation was inadequate and a breach of the Home Office's own policies
High Court begins hearing legal challenge over use of Napier Barracks to house asylum seekers
14 April 2021
The High Court has today begun hearing a legal challenge which will argue that the Home Secretary acted unlawfully in housing asylum seekers at a former military barracks in Kent.
According to DPG, the claimants will argue that the accommodation at Napier Barracks was inadequate, a breach of the Home Office's own policies, and risked breaching Articles 2, 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The use of former military barracks, including Penally in Wales, to house asylum seekers has faced widespread criticism. Notably, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons found last month that conditions at the barracks were filthy, impoverished, run-down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation.
Matthew Gold and Co's Clare Jennings explained yesterday: "For over 4 months our clients, and their fellow residents at Napier barracks endured what they describe as unbearable 'prison-like' living conditions. They shared dormitory accommodation with up to 13 other men, and bathrooms with too few toilets and showers. In January of this year Covid-19 spread like wildfire through the barracks. An outbreak that was all but inevitable given the cramped communal living conditions within the barracks. We hope that the Court will determine that accommodating our clients in the barracks was unlawful and breached their human rights and provide justice for our clients".
Sue Willman of DPG said: "Asylum-seeker clients living at Napier all winter said they felt unheard and forgotten about. This week's trial is a chance to hear about what they experienced. We hope the judge will conclude that the conditions in the barracks were unlawful because they violate the right of anyone seeking asylum in the UK to a basic standard of living and humane treatment".
On 31 March, Parliament's Home Affairs Committee published correspondence from the Home Office in relation to the use of former military barracks for asylum accommodation. The 50-page document is here.
Home Secretary Priti Patel wrote: "[T]he sites at Napier and Penally have previously accommodated our armed forces, and we have set them up in such a way as to be safe in line with public health guidance, working closely with our contracted partners, the local authority and other partners throughout."
Patel confirmed in her letter that Napier would continue to be used.
She told the Home Affairs Committee: "Penally has been an important component of our contingency accommodation over recent months and has provided safe and secure accommodation for asylum seekers who otherwise be destitute. This provided emergency capacity in response to pressures put on the asylum estate during COVID. As those pressures have eased, we have decided not to extend emergency planning permission beyond six months. Napier will remain in operation in accordance with current needs. The use of the Penally site has represented good value for money and we are grateful to MoD for its temporary use."
Yvette Cooper MP, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said it was unacceptable for the Home Secretary to claim the sites were set up "in such a way as to be safe" when there had been a serious outbreak of Covid-19 at Napier.
Cooper added: "We remain seriously concerned that so many people were placed by the Home Office in accommodation that was wholly unsuitable to a public health crisis and which encouraged the spread of covid-19. We are also waiting for the full ICIBI report and will continue to seek answers from the Home Office about how this was allowed to happen."
BBC News reported yesterday that the Home Office said improvements had been made at Napier and it was safe.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "Asylum seekers are staying in safe, suitable, Covid-compliant conditions, where they receive three nutritious meals a day."
Human rights groups said, however, that serious concern over conditions remained.
Clare Moseley of Care 4 Calais told the Press Association yesterday: "It's terrible to see people moving back into Napier Barracks given all the traumatising effects we have seen it have on vulnerable people … Small improvements may have been made but it is still an Army barracks and this induces fear in those fleeing conflict; people are still in shared dormitories which cannot be Covid safe; they are still cut off from communities that can help them."
The Press Association added that the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention has now launched an inquiry into the Home Office's use of "large-scale, institutional sites" to house asylum seekers.