Fears of a health crisis at a military barracks housing asylum seekers in Kent have escalated after 120 people are thought to have tested positive for COVID 19.
About 400 people are living at Napier Barracks in Folkestone where a virus outbreak has added to concerns over conditions.
Residents, many of whom have crossed the English Channel in small boats, have described it as unbearable and say that social distancing is difficult and there have been reports of suicide attempts.
Earlier this month, numerous residents went on hunger strike in protest at conditions which reportedly include 34 sharing one shower.
The controversial facility features barbed wire-topped barriers and hosted Canadian troops in the Second World War, and a petition to close down the site, along with a similar facility at a barracks in Wales, has accumulated more than 10,000 signatures.
The Home Office, which seized the site last year, insists the accommodation in Kent is safe, suitable and COVID compliant.
An open letter to all British subjects from an asylum seeker living 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, and 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 that at least 120 cases of coronavirus have been identified at the barracks with more test results pending.
That figure was put to the Home Office, who have so far refused to comment.
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 fewer than two days, and Kolbassia Haoussou, a lead survivor advocate at the charity, said that a major crisis was unfolding in these unsanitary and unsafe places, with numerous people being confined there, who have low immune systems and mental health problems linked to the abuse they have escaped from.
Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, echoed calls to close the barracks before they’re engulfed by tragedy and immigration minister Chris Philp said that they take the welfare of those in their care very seriously and asylum seekers could contact the 24/7 helpline run by Migrant help if they have any problems.
Use of Napier Barracks to house asylum seekers was originally approved for six months under emergency provision but the Home Office has said it’s considering prolonging its use past the current deadline in around March.
None of them should be permitted to leave the barracks if 120 people have tested positive for COVID, and the rest of them should be made to take a test and self isolate until the results come back.
Although it will be difficult, if not impossible to isolate the ones with COVID from the people that don’t have it, especially where there’s overcrowding.
I guess we could just send these asylum seekers back to their country, but legally we can’t because they have the legal right to claim for asylum until it’s decided what will happen to them, whether they can stay or whether they have to go back.
Although normally asylum would be in the first safe country they come to, and that would be France and not here, the United Kingdom.
Sadly, once they’re in the United Kingdom, legally we can’t just send them back if they make it here, and they then have the legal right to apply for asylum.