Asylum seekers being moved into the Napier barracks site in Kent have been told they will reside at the former military facility for at least two to three months, the Guardian understands, as a number of legal challenges are poised to be heard.
Men who are being held in hotels, as well as some new arrivals in the UK, have received letters from the Home Office telling them they will be moved into the barracks on Friday and that “it is anticipated you will reside at Napier for between 60 and 90 days”.
The Home Office has previously said the former Ministry of Defence site was being used as “temporary, contingency accommodation” for asylum seekers who would eventually be moved to dispersal accommodation such as a house or flat.
Critics expressed anger and disappointment on Wednesday when it emerged that the Home Office intended to continue housing asylum seekers in Napier, despite emptying it of residents over the weekend.
The decision to persist with the use of Napier comes despite a significant Covid outbreak in January, in which 50% of the near 400 residents fell sick, the closure of a sister site in Pembrokeshire and months of revelations over the suitability of the camp.
Meanwhile, two joined legal cases brought by lawyers at Deighton Pierce Glynn and Matthew Gold claiming that conditions in Napier are inadequate and unlawful will be heard in the high court next Wednesday and Thursday.
The lawyers say that if there is just one positive case of Covid, many asylum seekers could once again become infected because of communal sleeping arrangements in blocks of up to 28 people, along with communal dining and recreation facilities.
The human rights charity Liberty and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have been given permission to intervene in the case.
A separate legal challenge is under way by a third firm of lawyers, Duncan Lewis, claiming the Home Office does not have planning permission to accommodate asylum seekers in Napier after March 2021.
Clare Jennings, of Matthew Gold, said: “We are very concerned that the Home Office is proposing to move people back into Napier barracks just days before the high court case on whether the use of the barracks is lawful.”
The lawyers had asked the Home Office to delay moving new people into Napier until after the court hearing.
“Public Health England advised that Napier barracks were not suitable, but insofar as we are aware, no fundamental changes appear to have been made to address these concerns. Housing hundreds of men together, sharing dormitories, bedrooms and communal areas mean it is impossible for residents to avoid having contact with each other. Another outbreak therefore seems inevitable.”
Earlier this year the high court heard that the Home Office ignored Public Health England advice that the dormitory-style accommodation at Napier was not suitable during the pandemic.
And the HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration published a damning report after inspections of Napier and the now-closed Penally camp, calling the sites “filthy” and “impoverished”.
The letter issued to the new intake of people attempts to reassure them over their status. It reads: “You are not being detained under immigration powers, and Napier is not detention accommodation. You are free to leave the site, but we would request that you sign in and out of the site when you leave and return, so we can assure your safety.”
It lists facilities at the barracks including an on-site nurse, Migrant Help advisers, a visiting dentist, recreational space, worship rooms, private space for consultations and to make phone calls, wifi access and asylum interviewing facilities.
However, the Guardian understands that the Home Office intends to continue housing up to 28 men in a block, an arrangement that has been criticised by inspectors and Public Health England.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.