An asylum seeker and potential victim of trafficking housed at the controversial Napier army barracks in Kent must be urgently rehoused in alternative accommodation within 24 hours after a high court ruling.
Clive Sheldon QC, sitting as a deputy high court judge, on Tuesday ruled that the asylum seeker had made a strong case that the accommodation was inadequate for him and that the “prison-like” conditions and risk of contracting Covid-19 while there made it wholly unsuitable.
Emily Soothill, solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn, representing the asylum seeker, said the court’s ruling was important not only for the individual who brought the case but for others at Napier as it opened the door for more people to be transferred out of the barracks.
Lawyers are now making urgent court applications for the transfer of at least four more asylum seekers from Napier, where more than 120 asylum seekers have tested positive for coronavirus.
The asylum seeker who secured the court order arrived in the UK in August 2020. He has been accommodated in Napier barracks since September 2020 and, although the Home Office agreed to transfer him to alternative accommodation on 19 January 2021, they had still not done so two weeks’ later.
The court heard evidence about the unsafe and insanitary conditions at the barracks, with 14 men sharing a room, lack of heating, poor sanitary conditions and the impact of a recent serious fire, which has forced the asylum seeker who brought the legal challenge to sleep on a mattress on the floor of another shared dormitory.
Following the fire last Friday 13 asylum seekers have been transferred out of Napier barracks to Tinsley House immigration removal centre. It is understood that they are accused of taking part in a protest at the barracks, also last Friday, and are on criminal bail.
The government told the court that transfers away from the barracks were not possible while it was in lockdown due to the Covid outbreak, but the court agreed with the asylum seeker that exceptions can be made to Covid regulations to avoid further harm to the asylum seekers at the barracks and that the transfer needed to take place within hours.
The ruling comes as an urgent complaint is being lodged with the UN special rapporteur on the rights of migrants and others asking them to take urgent action to ensure the UK government complies with international law. Barrister Jan Doerfel said he plans to lodge complaints to the UN on Wednesday.
A former military chief, Nicholas Mercer, now a rector and previously the army’s top legal officer, has condemned the use of military barracks to accommodate asylum seekers.
“As the home secretary well knows, refugees are entitled to special protection under international law,” said Mercer. “It is wholly inappropriate therefore to house them in disused army barracks which have been described by the Red Cross as “unsafe and unsanitary” and which violate the UN convention on refugees. Refuge is about seeking sanctuary in a place of safety but this treatment is nothing more than naked hostility to very vulnerable people.”
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action: said: “Priti Patel’s experiment with segregated refugee ghettos is a divisive poison to community relations and is retraumatising survivors of genocide, rape and torture.”