The UK government acted unlawfully when it housed six asylum seekers at the Napier military barracks, a court ruled on Thursday. The facility failed to meet minimum standards, the judge found. The interior ministry said the barracks would continue to house asylum seekers.
Britain's High Court ruled Thursday (June 3) that the UK government broke the law when it housed six asylum seekers in Napier Barracks in Kent in southeast England.
Hundreds of migrants have been sent to the disused army barracks since September of last year -- despite warnings from public health officials that the location was unsuitable.
Six male asylum seekers had sued the UK government, arguing that detaining them at the barracks violated their human rights und that the Napier dormitories were "unsafe" due to overcrowding and squalid conditions. All six men are said to be survivors of torture and/or human trafficking.
Judge rules in favor of migrants
Following a two-day hearing in April, High Court judge Thomas Linden ruled in the migrants' favor this Thursday. He concluded that claims made by the interior ministry stating that the site was adequate were "irrational."
"I do not accept that the accommodation there ensured a standard of living which was adequate for the health of the claimants," he stated, citing COVID-19, fire safety and other issues.
Linden didn’t rule out that the barracks could be used to house asylum seekers in general. He said his findings were limited to the conditions the six men specifically faced.
However, he noted: "If the barracks are to continue to be used, there clearly need to be substantial improvements in the conditions there."
He also questioned the "detention-like'' setting at Napier barracks. "[The] decision that accommodation in a detention-like setting -- a site enclosed by a perimeter fence topped with barbed wire, access to which is through padlocked gates guarded by uniformed security personnel -- will be adequate for their needs, begins to look questionable,'' Linden said.
Migrants, refugees and their advocates have long criticized conditions at the Napier location. Humanitarian organizations in December raised concerns over the "unsuitable" and "indedaquate" conditions, with residents living in "freezing cold'' rooms over the winter. In January, a fire broke out at the facility. In early 2021, almost 200 people tested positive for coronavirus during an outbreak at the barracks.
Napier to continue operations
In response to Thursday's ruling, a spokesman for Britain's interior ministry, the Home Office, said it would "carefully consider the ruling and our next steps", but that Napier would continue to operate.
The site was used "at extremely short notice" as the pandemic hit Britain, "to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute", he argued.
The advocacy group Refugee Action welcomed the court ruling and called for the barracks to be shut permanently. "This judgment vindicates all those who repeatedly told the government that recklessly forcing hundreds of refugees into crowded camps during a killer pandemic was a gamble with people's lives,'' said Mariam Kemple Hardy at Refugee Action according to AP. "Napier Barracks and all other camp-style accommodation must be shut down,'' she said.
UK to overhaul asylum system
The court ruling comes as the number migrants trying to reach Britain by crossing the English Channel on small boats continues to rise.
The number of people crossing the 21 mile (34 kilometer) long stretch of water has almost doubled so far in 2021, with more than 3,100 reaching the English coast in the first five months of the year.
More than 600 migrants made the crossing last weekend, and a further six boats with around 130 migrants were detected on Tuesday.
The government launched plans earlier this year for what it called the biggest overhaul of asylum rules in decades. Home Secretary Priti Patel has vowed to make irregular journeys to the UK "unviable'' and says she will reform Britain's "broken'' asylum system.
With AFP, AP