Fire at Kent Barracks: 14 arrested amid continuing reports of unsafe conditions for asylum seekers
14 people have been arrested after a fire broke out at Napier Barracks in Kent on Friday. The military site has been housing asylum seekers, but there have been reports of poor conditions and several protests have taken place.
The Home Office began loaning the Napier Barracks in Kent last year to house asylum seekers. Since then, there have been many reports of unsafe conditions, including a COVID-19 outbreak at the site that has seen at least 120 asylum seekers test positive.
Asylum seekers threatened into silence
As well as this, the site has been subject to further controversy over the last year. Just last week, the Refugee Council wrote to the Home Office to demand an immediate investigation after media reports suggested that residents were being told that their asylum claims could be jeopardised if they speak out about conditions at the barracks.
Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:
“We are gravely concerned by reports that people seeking asylum could be being bullied into silence about conditions and health and safety risks at the barracks. All residents have a right to a fair asylum hearing and safe, reasonable and Covid-compliant living conditions while they await the outcome of their claim.”
Solomon also spoke out about the use of the Barracks to house asylum seekers, saying:
“The use of army barracks is wholly inappropriate and the government needs to commit to moving all asylum seekers to appropriate accommodation sooner rather than later.”
The Guardian has reported that since the fire, residents have been left without electricity, heating or drinking water whilst many are still recovering from COVID-19.
A journalist documenting a protest at the site has also been arrested. Photojournalist Andy Aitchison was arrested at his home on Thursday on suspicion of causing criminal damage. Aitchison said he was photographing the protest from the road outside of the site and that police seized his memory card out of his camera and took other journalistic materials.
He has been released on bail under the condition that he does not go near the barracks.
Pandering to prejudice
The Home Office have been accused of “pandering to prejudice” over their choice to house asylum seekers at the military barracks in Kent. An equality impact assessment in relation to the Home Office’s plans to use the Kent site, as well as the Pembrokshire site, to house asylum seekers revealed that the Home Office justified the decision because housing these individuals in more “generous” accommodation would “undermine public confidence in the asylum system”.
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