‘Decrepit’ barracks housing asylum seekers ‘unsuitable’ – inspectors

  • Watch video report by ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw

A former military camp being used to house asylum seekers in Kent is ‘impoverished, run down and unsuitable for long-term accommodation’, according to independent inspectors.

The Napier Barracks is described as being in a ‘poor and dilapidated condition’, with one block ‘unsuitable for habitation’ because it was ‘filthy’ and had ‘no showers, toilets or washing facilities’.

The assessment comes in a report published in full last week by a team from the Prisons Inspectorate, who visited the site in February on behalf of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

There was a large coronavirus outbreak at the facility in January and February, in which almost 200 residents tested positive for the virus. Anger over conditions led to a ‘disturbance and fire’ that same month.

The Home Office says the outbreak is now over and the site is “Covid-compliant”. It adds that it has made a “significant number of improvements” following the inspection.

Accommodation at Napier Barracks in February 2021. Credit: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

Inspectors also found:

  • “There were fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office”

  • Staff from the department “were rarely present at either site” and managers at both sites lacked “the experience and skills to run large-scale communal accommodation.”

  • Home Office communication with asylum seekers was “poor” and the “dearth of official information gave rise to misunderstandings and rumours, which had a negative effect on individuals and the collective mood”.

  • The lack of privacy, activities and limited information available for asylum seekers had a “corrosive effect on residents’ morale and mental health”.

A cross-party group of MPs called last week for Napier site to close.

  • Prof Cornelius Katona, Medical and Research Director at the Helen Bamber Foundation:

A Home Office spokesperson said: 

“While pressure on the asylum system remains we will continue to make use of Napier Barracks. Asylum seekers are staying in safe, suitable, Covid-compliant conditions, where they receive three nutritious meals a day.

“Napier has previously housed army personnel so it is an insult to say they are not adequate for asylum seekers. We have also made a significant number of improvements to the site following feedback from residents and inspectors.

“Our New Plan for Immigration will reform the broken asylum system; allowing us to welcome people through safe and legal routes, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.”

It’s understood some of the improvements made to the site in recent weeks include:

  • Reducing the numbers of residents

  • Introducing twice weekly Covid self-testing

  • A requirement for all visitors and staff to test before coming on to site

  • Enhanced cleaning regimes

The report was released following a request by reporters covering a separate ongoing High Court case.