LONDON (Bywire News) - A High Court judge has ruled that the Home Office, led by Priti Patel, acted unlawfully by housing asylum seekers in an “unsafe” and “squalid” former army barracks.
The judge, Mr Justice Linden, found that the Home Office breached asylum seekers’ human rights by unlawfully detaining them and forcing them to stay at Napier Barracks in Kent.
The Home Office's actions were found to be in breach of both common law and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In addition, it was ruled that the Barracks were not of the “minimum standard” to house people seeking asylum - with Justice Linden blasting the Home Office for failing to look after vulnerable people, as well as a lack of safety measures put in place, which he said lead to a “significant” risk of injury and death from fires or from Coronavirus.
In January this year, a fire broke out at the Barracks, and 200 people caught Coronavirus in an outbreak in February.
In his judgement, Mr Justice Linden said:
“The Defendant’s proposition has to be that she met the minimum standards of the RCD and reached a rational view that the Barracks were adequate despite the Claimants’ heightened vulnerability as asylum seekers which subsequently led to them being transferred out, despite the fact that the Barracks were reminiscent of a detention centre, despite the living conditions, which were basic at best, and the number of others who were to be resident there, despite the fact that they were likely to stay there for months, and despite the fact that they would be running risks of Covid-19 infection and death or injury from fire which the PHE and CPFSI respectively regarded as unacceptable. That is not a proposition which I can accept."
The Court heard evidence that the Home Office had believed it was “inevitable” that a Coronavirus outbreak would occur at the Barracks, and put few measures in place to prevent it - with overcrowded communal dormitories used to detain hundreds of people.
The case was brought to Court by six asylum seekers who were formerly housed at Napier Barracks - with each of the Claimants experiencing a decline in their mental health whilst there.
During their detention, one of the asylum seekers said:
"The situation in the camp is very bad and degrading. [...] Detainees in the barracks including myself have lost hope."
Following the judgement, Claimants are now allowed to claim damages from Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Napier Barracks stopped being a “detention centre” for asylum seekers in April of this year due to concerns about safety. However, just a few weeks later the Home Secretary decided to re-fill the Barracks, with more than 265 people currently detained there.
In response to the judgement, the Home Office released a statement saying:
"During the height of the pandemic, to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was required at extremely short notice.
"Such accommodation provided asylum seekers a safe and secure place to stay. Throughout this period our accommodation providers and sub-contractors have made improvements to the site and continue to do so.
"It is disappointing that this judgment was reached on the basis of the site prior to the significant improvement works which have taken place in difficult circumstances."
You can read the full judgement here.
(Written by Jessica Miller, editing by Tom D. Rogers.)