Asylum seekers living at UK’s first migrant camp go on hunger strike


Up to 40 asylum seekers living at Britain’s first migrant camp in Kent went on hunger strike and are sleeping outdoors in protest at conditions inside.

Many migrants gathered outside the barbed wire-topped fence at Napier Barracks in Folkestone at around 1pm chanting ‘freedom!’ and waving banners. 

There have been reports of suicide attempts within the Ministry of Defence-owned army barracks, where asylum seekers have been held for months.

Several dozen people stood outside the gates of the military facility to demonstrate over conditions inside and social distancing concerns.

One man attempted to take his own life on Friday as he was ‘unable to cope with the conditions there any more’, according to migrant charity Care4Calais.

Charity founder Clare Moseley called conditions ‘cramped and unsafe’, adding: ‘Asylum seekers have fled terrifying dangers, wars and persecution, they need support and protection, instead our Government is treating them with cruelty.’

Asylum seekers currently held inside Napier Barracks staged a protest outside the entrance to the barracks with banners and signs to demonstrate about the poor living conditions

Many migrants gathered outside the barbed wire-topped fence at Napier Barracks in Folkestone at around 1pm chanting 'freedom!' and waving banners

Many migrants gathered outside the barbed wire-topped fence at Napier Barracks in Folkestone at around 1pm chanting ‘freedom!’ and waving banners

There have been reports of suicide attempts within the Ministry of Defence-owned army barracks, where asylum seekers have been held for months

There have been reports of suicide attempts within the Ministry of Defence-owned army barracks, where asylum seekers have been held for months

Handout photo issued by Care4Calais of asylum seekers conducting a sleep out overnight

Handout photo issued by Care4Calais of asylum seekers conducting a sleep out overnight

Around 10 police officers were also present outside the entrance as the protest went on, though no arrests have been made. 

A group of five migrants slept outside their multi-occupancy housing blocks that night in sub-zero temperatures as part of their demands for better living conditions.

They have claimed that they will continue to do so until things improve, despite the bitter winter winds dropping to -2C.

Napier Barracks is one of two Ministry of Defence sites being used to house asylum seekers which were loaned to the Home Office last year.

The Government had struggled to house the thousands of people who crossed the English Channel in small boats during 2020.  

Napier Barracks was designated to house about 400 asylum seekers – more than any other Home Office ‘initial accommodation site’. 

Controversy over the use of a military facility to house vulnerable people has persisted and the Home Office has also faced accusations that it is ‘trying to gag’ volunteers visiting the site using the Official Secrets Act.

The Home Office has been contacted for comment. 

Ms Moseley of Care4Calais added: ‘Morale is low. This is not the first time this [attempted suicide] has happened and we fear it will not be the last.   

Hunger strikers demanded 'basic human rights' and a move to 'safe' accommodation, with one migrant admitting that he feared catching Covid-19

Hunger strikers demanded ‘basic human rights’ and a move to ‘safe’ accommodation, with one migrant admitting that he feared catching Covid-19

Several dozen people stood outside the gates of the military facility to demonstrate over conditions inside and social distancing concerns

Several dozen people stood outside the gates of the military facility to demonstrate over conditions inside and social distancing concerns

Asylum seekers currently held inside Napier Barracks staged a protest outside the entrance to the barracks with banners and signs to demonstrate about the poor living conditions

Asylum seekers currently held inside Napier Barracks staged a protest outside the entrance to the barracks with banners and signs to demonstrate about the poor living conditions

‘They feel that they have no other way for their voices to be heard. They are frustrated and exhausted, having spent months being told by the barracks managers that they will be moved to more suitable accommodation.

‘At the barracks, the men are isolated and cut off from vital support – most experience a severe decline in their mental health. 

‘This type of accommodation is entirely inappropriate for people who may have suffered through human trafficking, torture and imprisonment.

‘They are surrounded by barbed wire fencing; the military or detention environment re-traumatises those living there and they struggle to keep going.

‘Asylum seekers are some of the most resilient people we know.’ 

The charity has set up a fundraising page which has received more than £2,500 in donations to buy coats, hats and gloves for the migrants. 

Hunger strikers demanded ‘basic human rights’ and a move to ‘safe’ accommodation, with one migrant admitting that he feared catching Covid-19.

One man attempted to take his own life on Friday as he was 'unable to cope with the conditions there any more', according to migrant charity Care4Calais

One man attempted to take his own life on Friday as he was ‘unable to cope with the conditions there any more’, according to migrant charity Care4Calais

Handout photo issued by Care4Calais of asylum seekers conducting a sleep out overnight

Handout photo issued by Care4Calais of asylum seekers conducting a sleep out overnight

A row of beds at the former disused barracks in Folkestone, Kent, that houses asylum seekers

A row of beds at the former disused barracks in Folkestone, Kent, that houses asylum seekers

Some residents have symptoms and are in isolation inside the military facility, the man – who asked to remain anonymous – said.

He told the Morning Star: ‘The main demand is to move us to a safe place.

‘We feel that we are arrested like criminals and we feel like we are all isolated from the community. We are not able to do anything, just waiting for a decision from the Home Office, and there’s no response.

‘Some [people have been] waiting for four months and there is no news, just eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, and it makes a very negative impact on us.

‘We cannot think, we do not know what will happen, we don’t know the future. We are calling on the people to try and raise our voices to the government for the basic human rights.’

Healthcare organisations are concerned about the deteriorating mental health of some residents during their stay.

Jennifer Blair, co-head of legal protection at the Helen Bamber Foundation which works with survivors of torture, human trafficking and extreme abuse, said: ‘We anticipate that the longer people are living on the site, the worse the impact on them may be.

‘When people first arrived in the camps, they were told they would be moved on in four weeks.

‘Instead, there is no move-on plan for many residents and the impact of indefinite placement in these harsh conditions is severe, particularly when considering these cold winter months and the global pandemic.

‘Survivors of torture and human trafficking have been stripped of their autonomy in the past and so being kept in a military site surrounded by barbed wire can be retraumatising.’  

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