Church leaders from several different denominations in the UK have called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to "immediately end" the use of military barracks as accommodation for asylum seekers.
In an open letter addressed to the Home Secretary, the leaders said it was "simply insensitive" to house people in barracks as they often had to "spend time behind wire fences in refugee camps". They said that even as temporary measure the barracks were "unfit for purpose" and "entirely inappropriate".
The Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent has been housing asylum seekers since September 2020 with many campaigners denouncing the poor conditions in which they are being kept.
Last month, a fire broke out in the barracks prompting more criticism. Following the incident, five men were arrested, and Folkestone's council leader David Monk asked that the 300 asylum seekers that were still in the barracks were moved to hotels.
At the time, a spokeswoman for the Home Office responded that the government was meeting "all its statutory duties to accommodate asylum seekers" and said that "The Napier Barracks site is safe and secure, and we are working with our provider to repair the damage that has been done."
Although the government has announced they are looking to move all individuals to other accommodation, the church leaders have urged Ms Patel to issue a confirmation that they "will not expand the use of military barracks for contingency accommodation" and requested a timeline of the procedures.
They continued saying that "A long term sustainable action plan has to be put in place to secure suitable, dignified dispersal accommodation".
The letter, headed by The Bishop of Durham, The Rt Revd Paul Butler and Cardinal Vincent Nichols Archbishop of Westminster, said that having a "shared faith" is what has led them to view "all human beings as equal and deserving of respect, dignity and welcome".
"We have witnessed at first hand, the generous welcome provided by civic and faith groups to those seeking protection. When asylum seekers are housed within communities, it allows for better integration and access to support services. Asylum seekers are often no longer seen as "other" but as neighbours and friends. It is in this environment that asylum seekers physical and mental wellbeing can be protected, and they are also able to better engage with their asylum application," the letter reads.
The leaders concluded by urging the government to "continue to work constructively with local authorities, devolved administrations and support organisations" and to "end the use of barracks as a matter of urgency".
The government has announced the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) will send two inspectors the Napier Barracks in Folkestone Penally Camp in Pembrokeshire on 15th February.