120 people have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus (Covid-19) at a military barracks housing refugees in Kent. The outbreak has sparked fears of a health crisis.
Around 400 people are living at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, which means that over 1 in 4 residents could be infected. The virus outbreak has added to concerns over conditions at the barracks.
Residents, many of whom have crossed the English Channel in small boats, have described it as “unbearable”. They say social distancing is impossible at the facility.
Earlier in January, many residents went on hunger strike in protest at the conditions.which reportedly include 34 people sharing one shower. There have also been reports of suicide attempts.
The controversial facility features barbed-wire topped fences. It hosted Canadian troops in the Second World War.
A petition to shut down the site, along with a similar facility at a barracks in Wales, has amassed more than 10,000 signatures.
The Home Office, which commandeered the site last year, insists the accommodation in Kent is “safe, suitable, (and) Covid-compliant”.
An open letter to “all British citizens” from a resident at Napier Barracks, and reportedly signed by more than 200 other residents, has been shared by refugee charity Choose Love.
The letter calls out home secretary Priti Patel and immigration minister Chris Philp over conditions at the site.
We came to this country to save our lives. Lives which were mostly in danger because of war and prosecution.
Yet we found ourselves in an army camp and we are surrounded by fences and security guards.
The undated letter says there are at least 120 confirmed cases of coronavirus at the barracks with more test results pending.
The Home Office has so far declined to comment on the figure of 120 cases.
A petition by Freedom from Torture to empty the barracks in Kent and Wales and close them down has racked up more than 10,000 signatures in less than two days. The petition can be accessed here.
Kolbassia Haoussou, lead survivor advocate at the charity, said:
A major crisis is unfolding in these unsanitary and dangerous places. Many of the people trapped here have low immune systems and mental health issues linked to the abuse they have fled.
The Government has the power to end this nightmare now. Empty the barracks, close the camps, save lives.
Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, echoed calls to shut the barracks “before they are engulfed by tragedy”.
🗣Our message to the government:
Empty the barracks.
Close the camps.
A major health crisis is unfolding. A Covid outbreak has put vulnerable refugees in danger.
Sign the petition ⬇️https://t.co/2Tll0finGH
— Freedom from Torture (@FreefromTorture) January 21, 2021
Use of Napier Barracks to house asylum seekers was initially authorised for six months under emergency provisions. But the Home Office has said it’s considering extending its use beyond the current deadline in around March.
Immigration minister Chris Philp said:
We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and asylum seekers can contact the 24/7 helpline run by Migrant Help if they have any issues.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?