Asylum seekers held at the Home Office’s widely criticised military barracks in Kent claim they will be “blacklisted” if they speak out after last week’s high court ruling that the decision to use the site was unlawful.
Staff employed by private Home Office contractors at the Napier barracks site at Folkestone have allegedly told residents that their asylum application will be impaired if they talk to the media about conditions at the camp.
On Thursday asylum seekers won a legal challenge against the government that ruled Napier’s “squalid” accommodation failed to meet a minimum standard. The high court ruling prompted calls for the home secretary, Priti Patel, to resign and the barracks to be closed immediately.
Maddie Harris from Humans for Rights Network, which documents violations against asylum seekers, said allegations that contracted staff were still warning asylum seekers that their claims would be compromised for shedding light on conditions was alarming.
Harris said she understood that one staff member had recently approached a group of five Napier residents and singled out two of them.
“They were specifically told that it was known they had spoken to the media and this would affect their claim,” she said.
After the high court ruling Harris said fresh allegations emerged that Napier residents were again warned not to approach the media.
She said she understood that: “They were told by staff that there is a full list of people in the camp and that names have been circled who are known to have spoken to journalists. They were told it’s going to be a problem for their asylum claim.”
Asylum is a human right backed by the UN Refugee Convention and assessed in the UK using agreed screening processes and Home Office immigration caseworkers.
It has also emerged that trafficking victims appear to have been transferred to Napier contrary to new official guidance on the barracks. The high court also criticised the home secretary’s process for choosing people to be accommodated at the site as flawed and unlawful.
Guidance for Home Office staff made publicly available the day before the high court verdict, but dated 27 May, states that asylum seekers were “unsuitable” for the barracks if they had been reported to the national referral mechanism, which is designed to identify and support trafficking victims.
The guidance stipulated they should also not be sent to Napier – where 267 asylum seekers are being held – if “there are reasonable grounds to believe they are a victim of modern slavery or a decision on this matter is still pending”.
However Clare Moseley of charity Care4Calais said they had managed to remove 45 residents from Napier over concerns they were trafficking victims since the camp reopened two months ago.
The high court also heard that Public Health England had warned Patel that the use of dormitories meant a coronavirus outbreak was inevitable – half its almost 400 residents were subsequently infected. Despite crowded rooms being identified as the cause, sources say the Home Office was planning to increase room capacity at Napier from 12 to 14.
Sally Hough, a volunteer at Napier, said she had been informed that despite concerns over a third coronavirus wave, room capacity increases were being considered.
“With the spread of the Delta variant this is so negligent. This is a threat to the men in the camp and the wider community as the Home Office move people from known hotspots to Napier,” she said.
The Home Office and contractors Clearsprings have been contacted for comment.