Napier Barracks residents “warned” against joining a solidarity event

Asylum seekers housed in “prison-like” conditions in an old military barracks in southeast England were warned against joining a solidarity event organized by a rights group that is campaigning to have the barracks closed.

Security officers of the Napier Barracks in Kent, where hundreds of asylum seekers are being held, “warned” the asylum seekers housed there against joining the event organized by Close the Camps UK group on Saturday, residents said.

Salama [changed his name over security concerns], an Eritrean asylum seeker, who has been housed in Kent for the past month, told IPA News that three middle-aged male guards visited the residents in their rooms in the barracks on Saturday morning and threatened to send their names to the Home Office if they left the camp and joined a “protest” outside the camp.

They were told it would impact their asylum claim.

“I was terrified at that moment when they threatened us, we talked to each other, and I decided to show up today. Several residents did not show up, though, because they were scared,” he said.

Two other residents of Napier Barracks confirmed that guards threatened them before the event; however, they refused to speak out, stating that they were not feeling safe.

The local police inspected the area by visiting the workshop tents during the solidarity event.

Close the Camps UK, a coalition of different groups, organized a “Festival of Solidarity” at Napier Barracks on Saturday which was attended by more than 200 volunteers.

The organization is urging the authorities to close the controversial camps, free people from “prison-like” sites, and provide asylum seekers suitable accommodation and access to legal support.

The Home Office is under fire over its controversial decision last month to keep accommodating the asylum seekers in the old military facilities.

Rights groups criticize the authorities for forcing the asylum seekers to live in “inhuman” conditions.

An asylum seeker from Iran anonymously told IPA that there are 24 people at each block where the rooms are separated only by curtains.

“There is no privacy and hard to sleep with 24 people in one place. We have only two toilets and one bathroom for 24 people,” he added.

A Covid outbreak in January hit the camp and half of the 400 Napier residents at the time became ill.

In March, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the independent chief inspector of Borders and Immigration issued a damning report on the barracks following a visit to the facility.

According to the Guardian newspaper,  concerns were raised over Covid protection, fire safety, and the living conditions of those residents there.

The British Red Cross in April called for former military facilities such as Napier Barracks, which are housing asylum seekers, to be closed immediately.

Housing asylum seekers in the barracks can re-traumatize people who have fled war, the charity says.

Red Cross’s report on asylum accommodation at military sites alleged there were delays in the asylum system and that authorities were failing to provide essential clothing and financial support. There were barriers to accessing healthcare.

Having moved dozens of asylum seekers to Napier Barracks in April, the Home Office has defended its controversial decision as a “necessary” measure.

“Close the Camps UK” group, on the other hand, blamed the Home Office for using abandoned army barracks to house vulnerable people.

“Right now, in the UK, asylum seekers are being forced to live in prison-like conditions, with no release date and in complete violation of their fundamental human rights,” the group said.

Campaigners provided care and practical support to Napier residents, including haircuts, legal advice, and food. Despite the guards’ “warning,” dozens of asylum seekers joined the event.

*Reporting by Zubeyir Koculu, editing by Giordano Stolley

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