The use of a controversial military barracks in Kent for housing asylum seekers is set to be extended until as late as 2025.
Scandal-hit Napier Barracks – where an outbreak of Covid-19 saw almost 200 infections earlier this year – was loaned to the Home Office in 2020.
The original deadline for its return to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was next month, but its use is to be extended until as late as 2025, the PA news agency understands.
The decision has been branded a “profoundly depressing example of the Home Office’s institutionalised inhumanity” by Amnesty International UK.
Dating back more than 130 years, the ageing Napier Barracks has been dogged by allegations of poor conditions in communal dormitories, with inspectors describing an isolation block as “unfit for habitation”.
The Home Office has insisted it would be an “insult” to suggest the site is not “adequate” for asylum seekers.
The department confirmed on Friday evening that the use of Napier Barracks is set to continue for the next five years and remain under review.
Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Kevin Foster said the “unprecedented and unacceptable rise” in small boat crossings and the Covid-19 pandemic “continue to put pressure on our asylum system”.
He added: “As we work to reform the broken asylum system, we must ensure we have sufficient capacity to meet our statutory duty to provide support to genuine and destitute asylum seekers.”
People who travel to the UK through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy or Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will not be housed in Napier Barracks, the Home Office said.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the decision to extend the use of Napier Barracks is “another profoundly depressing example of the Home Office’s institutionalised inhumanity toward people who seek safety and refuge in the country”.
He added: “It’s clear from numerous reports and eyewitness accounts that conditions at Napier are entirely unsuitable, not least when it comes to some of the vulnerable and traumatised people being kept there.
“Events in Afghanistan are an ongoing reminder of the extreme dangers that drive refugees to seek a place of safety.
“They deserve better than the squalid and unsafe conditions at Napier Barracks.“
Folkestone & Hythe District Council deputy leader Jenny Hollingsbee said: “We have not changed our initial view that Napier Barracks is not the right place, so this is very disappointing news and not what we had been hoping to hear.
“I have made it clear to the Home Office that if the use is to continue then it is our expectation that Government will make further investment to improve facilities for those staying at the barracks.”
The first arrivals were moved into the camp in September 2020 following a then-record year for numbers of people crossing the English Channel in small boats.
In January and February this year 197 people at the site contracted coronavirus, leading to accusations that health advice had been ignored.
New transfers to the barracks were halted after a High Court judge in June found the accommodation failed to meet a minimum standard, but resumed in recent weeks, PA understands.
Many of those housed in the site arrived in the UK after making the dangerous journey across the English Channel aboard small boats.
At least 12,400 people have succeeded in making the trip in 2021, according to data compiled by PA.
However, the perilous waters have also claimed several lives in recent years, including that of an Eritrean man who died trying to reach the UK when his migrant boat started to sink off the French coast earlier this month.