UK Home Office 'exposed refugees to fire, Covid-19'

UK Home Office placed refugees 'at risk of fires, Covid-19' at converted military camp
2 min read
15 April, 2021
Recently disclosed documents show that the UK Home Office placed hundreds of asylum seekers at risk of fire and Covid-19 by housing them at the converted Napier military barracks.
Asylum seekers endured unsafe conditions at the converted Napier Barracks [Getty]
The UK Home Office was aware of a heightened risk of hundreds of asylum seekers contracting Covid-19 and being exposed to a "serious risk of fire" at Napier barracks, a converted military facility used to house them in Folkestone in southeast England, UK media reported this week.

However, more asylum seekers will be moving into Napier barracks in "due course", the UK Independent reported a  Home Office spokesperson as saying on Monday.

Six men who had been housed at the have taken the Home Office to court, arguing that their accommodation breached their basic human rights.

The camp was "squalid, ill-equipped, lacking in personal privacy and unsafe," said Tom Hickman QC, who represents four of the claimants.

He argued that residents were placed at "exceptionally high risk" of contracting Covid-19, as well as being "exposed to conditions that had serious detrimental impacts on their mental health".

The accusation comes as some 200 people contracted the virus during an outbreak earlier this year.

In response to the claims, the Home Office’s legal representative Lisa Giovannetti argued clinically vulnerable people had been "sifted out", the BBC reported.

Home Secretary Priti Patel had "always accepted and acknowledged that transmission risk is higher in congregate settings of this sort", Giovannetti argued, adding that "by introducing the safeguards, including selecting the individuals that could be housed there with least risk," Patel had decided the barracks could be used safely.

"Throughout the outbreak nobody did fall seriously ill or was hospitalised and none of the claimants became seriously ill or was hospitalised," she added, referencing the Covid-19 outbreak.

A judgement is due to be handed out at a later date.

The barracks had been called unsuitable for accomodation by activists following a fire there, and newly disclosed documents written by the Crown Premises’ Fire Safety Inspectorate in November found that the fire safety measures that had been put in place there did not "appropriately protect from serious risk," the Independent reported on Wednesday.

"The failures to cooperate and to coordinate fire safety measures as necessary have led to a consequent failure to protect relevant people appropriately from serious risk," the documents said.

The newly revealed documents, along with a letter by the inspectorate urging the Home Office to correct the errors within 28 days was sent to Home Office, and according to lawyers representing former Napier residents, the safety issues were not corrected until March 2021.

A fire broke out at the camp on 29 January, and though nobody was injured, "a significant amount of damage" was caused.

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