On 14th September F&H district council reported that they had been advised by the Home Office that Napier Barracks was to be made ready as an ‘assessment and dispersal’ open facility for asylum seekers.
Some days before that rumours had broken on social media that Napier Barracks was being converted for use by asylum seekers, with locals reporting that equipment and other items were already being removed from the barracks in preparation.
Commenting on these rumours many local people were surprised and angry that 80 to 100 asylum seekers were to be housed at Napier Barracks and it was thought likely the number would be much higher. Later reports on TV seemed to confirm that as many as 500 or more asylum seekers would be accommodated at Napier Barracks, for periods of up to 2 years.
Some local people thought that the refugees should be made to feel welcome and reminded all how Folkestone had offered safe harbour to Belgian refugees when they arrived terror-stricken as they fled the invader in 1914.
Over the past weeks and months local people have seen almost daily occurrences of refugees landing in small boats – with almost 5 times as many refugees having crossed this year compared with the same period last year – approx 6000 refugees in total. The refugees, mostly young men but occasionally entire families, come from poor, war-torn and chaotic countries such as Iran and Iraq and these landings have become so commonplace that locals barely raise an eyebrow at the news now.
Concerned at the lack of notice about this sudden arrangement F&HDC issued the following statement: “Following the rumours circulating, we have been given confirmation today that the Home Office intends to make Napier Barracks an assessment and dispersal facility for asylum seekers. Leader Cllr David Monk, Folkestone & Hythe MP Damian Collins and Folkestone & Hythe District Council ward member Cllr Tim Prater chairman of Sandgate Parish Council immediately co-wrote letters protesting to ministers about the lack of consultation on this matter. The council statement goes on to say: “We are quite sure that members of the community will have many questions, and we are seeking clarification as a matter of urgency. When we have the clarification we will publish the answers”.
An emergency cabinet meeting was held later that evening when this issue was discussed in greater detail and later that same evening Cllrs Monk, Prater and Wimble were interviewed by ITV News – where they spoke in the strongest terms about their disagreement with this sudden decision by the Home Office which had been made without consultation.
MP Damian Collins has also written in the strongest terms to MP Priti Patel telling why this decision cannot be supported and outlining the following questions:
“Firstly, will you publish the impact assessment the Home Office has made for using the barracks in this way, detailing what security provisions have been made for the site and the likely impact on the local residential community around the barracks. We understand that this is to be an open facility, and so it is to be expected that those living there will want to make use of local amenities. Can you also publish the impact assessment for the welfare of those who will be living at Napier Barracks, which will be a very large number of people, accommodated in basic facilities which have not been designed for this purpose. Also can you share with us the current guidelines for the accommodation of people currently in the asylum system, including the recommendations on the number of adults to be place at a single facility, the level of support they would require, and how this compares to the arrangements that have been made at Napier Barracks.
“Secondly, what provision is being made to support local public services, including the NHS, in case these are required to provide assistance to those living at Napier Barracks. Equally, will Kent Police be able to access additional funding in case of any impact this facility has on their resources.
“Thirdly, we understand that whilst this is a temporary facility it is likely to be in use for many months. Can you give a commitment as to what the maximum period of its use will be?”
Damian finishes his letter with “We understand that the Home Office plans to start using Napier Barracks for this purpose from Monday 21 September. We would be grateful for your response to this letter before the end of this week.”
Shortly after the first F&HDC briefing an update was issued confirming that, following urgent conversations with the Home Office, the council will be working with partner agencies to set up a support network to help asylum seekers.
F&HDC Leader David Monk said “We understand the plight of many asylum seekers who arrive in this country with only the clothes they are wearing and we want to help. A support network has to be set up and it must be one that will work. There are lots of aspects to consider and our initial concern was that some of these aspects had not been addressed with us earlier.”
Cllr Monk went on to say “It was never a question of this council being against the principle of asylum seekers living in our community. Our concern was that as we had not been consulted we had no way of being able to allay the fears and address the questions raised by our residents.”
Residents who live adjacent to Napier Barracks expressed a hope that it will be mainly families who are accommodated in the Barracks, but they are concerned that the likelihood is that it will be mostly young men.
This news has been breaking almost hour by hour, and the latest council update starts to fill in some, but not all, of the gaps.
Chris Philip, Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts responded to questions about lack of consultation – he advised that Government is making use of Section 9 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to provide safe accommodation for people who have claimed asylum who would otherwise be destitute whilst their claims are being considered. It is understood that the site has permission for use for up to 12 months, and the facility is temporary.
F&HDC staff are already working with partner agencies to ensure all appropriate support measures are in place. The contractor running the site will be Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd – an experienced accommodation and support provider elsewhere in the UK.
At the Barracks there will be on-site security and on-site medical services to reduce pressure on local health services. Every effort is being made for the facility to be Covid secure and Public Health England is involved to ensure safety of its users and local residents. Those coming to the site will have spent a quarantine period elsewhere and welfare and security checks will have taken place. Equipment is being delivered over the weekend (19-20 Sept) and around 25 asylum seekers will move in on Monday 21 Sept.
Offers to help for those living at the barracks, from councillors and residents, have been received and more information about volunteering opportunities will be available over the coming days. The Home Office Press Office have also just announced they will create a Facebook post in the Kent area to advise and reassure local people. There will also be a fact sheet addressing commonly asked questions. Further updates will be issues as more information becomes available.