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Thousands call on Home Office to shut barracks housing refugees amid coronavirus outbreak

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.

“Unbearable”

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”.

Read on...

Napier Barracks asylum protest
Refugees conducting a sleep-out overnight in protest over conditions at Napier Barracks (Care4Calais/PA)

Open letter

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.

It says:

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.

Petition

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”.

Extension

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.

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