This is the first look inside a disused barracks that will house asylum seekers for up to a year while they await a decision of their asylum applications.
Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent has been turned into an ‘assessment and dispersal facility’ for around 400 people.
The asylum seekers are expected from today and on a daily basis thereafter, according to Folkestone and Hythe District Council.
Staff and security guards have been pictured today making the final preparations at the facility, with some seen carrying duvets to the beds.
Council leader David Monk initially expressed ‘great concerns’ in a co-signed letter with local MP Damian Collins and Sandgate Parish Council leader Cllr Tim Prater.
They asked home secretary Priti Patel to halt the plans after blasting ‘exceptionally poor communication,’ claiming to have been given ‘very little notice of this decision and it’s one we cannot support’.
Staff at Napier Barracks outside Folkestone in Kent, have started preparing for the arrival of asylum seekers
A view of Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, where migrants who have crossed the Channel in small boats are to be housed
The letter read: ‘We have great concerns about the impact this large open camp will have on the welfare of the local residential community and also those people in the asylum system who will be placed in the barracks itself.’
But Mr Monk later backtracked and said: ‘It was never a question of this council being against the principle of asylum seekers living in our community.
‘Our concern was that as we had not been consulted we had no way of being able to allay the fears and address the questions raised by our residents.’
Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp MP offered reassurances in a written reply on Friday about the temporary accommodation expected to be in place for 12 months.
He said the Government is making use of Section 9 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to provide safe accommodation for people who have claimed asylum who would otherwise be destitute, whilst the merits of their asylum claims are being considered.
Covid-19 has a ‘major impact’ on the asylum support system, according to Mr Philp, and Napier Barracks was identified among a range of options to ease the pressure.
Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth office on September 15
Equipment was installed during the final preparations over the weekend at the site which will be run by a UK based ‘experienced accommodation and support provider’.
Those coming to the former military base will have spent a quarantine period elsewhere with personal welfare and security checks undertaken.
A spokesman for Folkestone and Hythe District Council said: ‘The focus will be on the welfare of those based at the accommodation, the provision of wraparound services and wider considerations relating to the local area and its residents.
‘There will be on-site security and, in order to reduce any additional pressure on local health services, on-site medical services will also be provided.
‘Particular attention will be paid to safeguarding and any concerns addressed by the contractor with input from the Home Office safeguarding team.
The first arrivals are expected from today and on a daily basis thereafter, according to Folkestone and Hythe District Council
‘We understand that every effort is being made for the facility to be COVID-19 secure and Public Health England is closely involved with the operational plan to ensure the safety of its users and local residents.’
A multi-agency task force has been meeting to ensure appropriate support measures are in place at the barracks.
The council is expected to announce volunteering opportunities in the near future after receiving offers for help from local residents and councillors.
The Government said they were exploring opportunities for further accommodation with a range of partners and other government departments.
They added that following the submission of request, the MOD and the Army have been fully supportive in trying to reach a workable solution.
A spokesman said: ‘During these unprecedented times the government is working with a range of partners and across departments to secure further accommodation and the MOD has offered use of some of its sites.
‘When using contingency accommodation we work closely with organisations, including local authorities and law enforcement, throughout the process to ensure value for money and that vulnerable asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, have suitable accommodation while their claims are processed.’