At least one asylum seeker housed in a former military barracks in Kent has tested positive for coronavirus, following repeated warnings about crowded and unsanitary conditions at the repurposed site.
Dozens of asylum seekers have been placed in quarantine in one of the redbrick blocks at Napier Barracks near Folkestone, which has been sealed off with black and yellow tape.
Volunteers assisting the asylum seekers at the barracks fear the case could be the start of a large-scale outbreak as more than 400 men are now staying at the site, living in increasingly crowded conditions that make social distancing impossible.
Charity workers have also raised concerns about hygiene, poor food and limited access to medical care and legal advice.
Images seen by the Guardian show bedsheets hung up in an attempt to secure privacy and a flooded toilet block.
The Guardian understands the man who tested positive, an Iranian asylum seeker, is no longer on site and has been taken to hospital.
One volunteer, who asked not to be named, said there was “much fear and chaos” at the site over the case. “Surely this is going to spread like wildfire round the camp if Covid-19 is as contagious as they say it is,” they said. “Every single person we speak to and deal with has said the barracks are not Covid-safe.”
The volunteer said the communal spaces have blue stickers on the floor and there are posters to remind residents to keep their distance, but added, “That’s just not possible.”
“There’s a constant complaint about water being all over the [bathroom] floor, toilets leaking, taps not being turned off. It got to the point where they were asking us to provide them with mops. They’ve gone off to try and clean up themselves.
“We’ve given them disposable masks and hand gel. At one point they were asking for hand soap.”
There are concerns the Covid diagnosis could increase already fraught tensions. Charities have experienced difficulty accessing the camp due to far-right protests outside. A welcome event to demonstrate support for the asylum seekers at the barracks is supposed to be taking place on Saturday, although there are fears that it will be hijacked by the far right.
“I’m worried there’s going to be such a backlash in the community,” the volunteer said.
A private firm, Clearsprings Ready Homes, which manages swathes of asylum accommodation across the south of England, has been contracted by the Home Office to run the site.
The barracks have been repurposed into what is known as “initial accommodation” for asylum seekers, usually short-term housing that can be full-board, half-board or self-catering. The amount of time people stay in initial accommodation can vary, but around three to four weeks is normal. They are then moved to longer-term accommodation.
A charity worker told the Guardian the number of asylum seekers staying at the barracks had nearly doubled in the last week. “They’ve just had a huge amount of people arrive from hotels, mainly in Croydon. There may have been cases of the virus brought into the camp,” they said. “Covid cases are very low in this part of the country.”
The charity worker said there were about 32 men in each dormitory, 16 on each side of the room in close quarters. Screens had only recently been fitted between the beds, they said.
Clearsprings are said to have an outbreak management plan which is enacted if there are positive Covid-19 tests.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our asylum system is broken and we are determined to introduce a new system that is firm and fair. It will be compassionate towards those who need our help, welcoming people through safe and legal routes.”
Read the original article at The Guardian