Reports that more military barracks could be used to house asylum-seekers have alarmed charities.
A Government taskforce has been set up to consider various options, as thousands of people continue to risk their lives crossing the English Channel to the UK in small boats.
The initiative will consider the use of barracks, the possibility of cutting benefits, whether return agreements can be strengthened, and “offshoring” to third countries while claims are processed, according to reports.
Charities criticised what they see as the Government’s “culture-warring” and called for more efficient processing of asylum claims.
Napier Barracks in Kent is currently used to house asylum-seekers but has been dogged by allegations of poor conditions in communal dormitories, with inspectors describing an isolation block as “unfit for habitation”.
The scandal-hit site, which dates back more than 130 years, was hit by a major outbreak of Covid-19 earlier this year which saw almost 200 infections.
The Home Office has previously insisted it would be an “insult” to suggest the site is not “adequate” for asylum seekers.
Use of the site is set to continue until as late as 2025.
About 277 people are currently living in the barracks, the PA news agency understands.
Many of the occupants are still sleeping in dormitories with up to a dozen others.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: “Sending refugees to offshore detention centres or dilapidated ex-barracks will not stop desperate people seeking sanctuary in the UK.
With many refugees – children among them – having experienced difficulties crossing to the UK this weekend, surely we can all agree that the UK asylum system needs reform.
And surely the sensible solution is an efficient system offering safe & legal routes.
— Care4Calais (@Care4Calais) November 22, 2021
“If the Government wants to stop dangerous boat crossings, negative headlines and voter concern, it would allow a safe corridor from France to the UK for the relatively small number of people who want to come to the UK to make an asylum claim.
“Its strategy of culture-warring the issue while overseeing an increase in dangerous crossings is understandably satisfying no one”.
Clare Moseley, founder of migrant charity Care4Calais, said: “Large accommodation sites stop asylum-seekers being able to integrate into communities and easily access services such as medical support, charities, churches and other amenities that may be easily available in a town.
“A large site like Napier for example can put undue strain on a smaller local community. For people fleeing war, torture and persecution the increased isolation impacts on health and mental health.”
She said it was “disappointing” to see a focus on cost-saving accommodation and said a “better answer” would be efficient and accurate processing of asylum claims.
“Forcing more people to live in squalid army barracks is yet another cruel proposal that distracts from the real problems”, Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director said.
“The Government should concentrate on ensuring that people fleeing persecution are recognised as refugees as quickly as possible and provide the asylum to which they are entitled,” he added.
“They must also end their foolish policy of delaying people’s asylum claims in the vain hope that another country can be persuaded to take responsibility for that person seeking asylum.
“Instead, ministers are devising more ways to demean or mistreat people seeking asylum – a recipe for further disaster.”