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Home Office under fire over plans to open UK's first 'migrant camp' in Kent

The Napier Barracks in Kent are set to house 400 asylum seekers [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 September, 2020

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The UK Home Office has been criticised over plans to house some 400 asylum seekers in disused army barracks near the south coast while their applications are being processed
The UK will open its first "migrant camp" for asylum seekers who crossed the Channel in small boats from 21 September, it has emerged, sparking outrage from human rights groups.

The Home Office plans to convert the Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, into accommodation for asylum seekers while their claims are being processed.

However, the local MP and council have hit out at the plans, accusing the Home Office of not consulting or communicating with them over the arrangement.

Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe Damian Collins said in an open letter to the Home Office that he "cannot support" the plan and told the department to find "more suitable" accommodation.

A joint letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel signed by Collins and local councillors said: "We have great concerns about the impact this large open camp will have on the welfare of the local residential community and also those people in the asylum system who will be placed at the barracks itself.

"We would ask that you reverse this decision and find more suitable accommodation for people who are currently having their cases processed by the asylum system."

Folkestone and Hythe district council said in a statement there had been "lack of consultation on this matter and the exceptionally poor communication with us".

"We are quite sure that members of the community will have many questions, and we are seeking clarification as a matter of urgency," it added.

Minnie Rahman, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants condemned the Napier Barracks plans as a Home Office failing.

"We can all agree that people who've fled the most devastating circumstances deserve compassion and support to help restart their lives. Right now, this clearly isn't happening - people are being failed," Rahman told The New Arab.

"These failings have occurred despite a sharp fall in asylum applications this year. The Home Office should be more than capable of providing people with decent housing and assistance right now," she added.

"Instead people are being siphoned off into army barracks and excluded from society. This isn't right - we must allow asylum-seekers to reunite with their families, settle into our communities and rebuild their lives here," Rahman said.

A UK government spokesperson told The Guardian: "During these unprecedented times, the government is working with a range of partners and across departments to secure further accommodation and the MoD [Ministry of Defence] has offered use of some of its sites.

"When using contingency accommodation we work closely with organisations, including local authorities and law enforcement, throughout the process to ensure value for money and that vulnerable asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, have suitable accommodation while their claims are processed."

A second army barracks in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is also under consideration for use as a migrant holding centre by the Home Office.

The move comes as more than 168 people crossed the Channel to the UK on small boats on Monday, followed by at least 151 people on Tuesday.

The Home Office should be more than capable of providing people with decent housing and assistance right now
- Minnie Rahman, JCWI


The total number of people having made the crossing this year is thought to exceed 5,000, more than twice the 1,900 known to have made the 21-mile trip in 2019.

Cross-channel migration has proven a thorny issue for the UK government, which has positioned itself as tough on migration.

Immigration Minister Chris Philp confirmed on Tuesday that 14 people who had made the Channel crossing had been deported to other European countries.

Lawyers have criticised the government's deportation programme, saying it ignores the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic and puts those removed at high risk of homelessness and destitution.

Sea crossings have surged during the coronavirus lockdown as the number of trucks travelling through the Channel Tunnel dropped dramatically.

Read also: France and UK play blame game as migrants wash up dead on their shores

Deteriorating conditions in northern France's makeshift camps may also be forcing asylum seekers across the Channel, as local charities have been forced to stop or scale back their operations in the area due to the pandemic.

Heavy maritime traffic, strong currents and low water temperatures make sea crossings especially dangerous.

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