The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS UK) launched its latest report, Napier Barracks: the inhumane reality to a packed audience in Folkestone last week. Eileen Cole shares the highlights from the evening.
Former resident of Napier Barracks, Waleed, aged 20, who fled his country due to religious persecution, kept the packed audience wrapt in admiration and solidarity as he told his story of being a refugee and his time spent in Napier. He highlighted the issue with isolation – “…it extends to most asylum accommodation. It is not only systemic but societal. We feel unwanted, so we don’t feel like we can socialise.”
The need for integration into the local community and our society is a constant concern of our work at JRS and anyone who cares about the future of asylum seekers and refugees. At the local launch of the Napier Report in Folkestone on a wet, windy April evening, local residents packed the venue to hear about the findings and to meet former residents and hear their testimonies of being held in Napier barracks.
They expressed their deep concerns about the treatment of refugees and their willingness to help in any way they could. This attitude of goodwill was heart-warming, especially considering the fatigue that can be placed on a local community when new cohorts of refugees are brought in every 90 days, as happens at Napier. The men usually have very few possessions and need coats and shoes in the colder months of the year. The local community have shown consistent generosity in providing these things and more, but there is a limit to the capacity to do so.
One local resident, Sally Hough, who formed part of the panel presenting the report, established and runs the Napier Barracks Drop-In centre which is a safe and friendly place away from the barracks, where people can come in and receive advice, help accessing legal advice, receive practical support and participate in activities such as arts, sports and English language classes.
Sally expressed another aspect of the regular turnover of residents at Napier: “We build up friendship and confidence with the Napier residents, and within a few months they are moved on and we have to start again with the new intake. Every single resident is a person with a name, a face, a future; this is a cruel way for them to be treated, especially when they have overcome such odds to get here.”
Author of the report, Sophie Cartwright responded to questions from local residents asking “what can we do to help?”, she said: “in this alarmingly hostile context local resistance and solidarity has worked to stop asylum camps opening. I hope that can be a part of getting Napier closed.” She noted that the local MP was unable to attend the evening and continued: “It will make a difference to write your MP. In other constituencies things have changed when MPs have understood the strength of feeling locally. It’s worth also engaging with local authorities and councillors. Making it clear refugees are welcome here, and should not be ‘imprisoned’ in camps.”
There is so much more to convey from the wonderful evening, and we will do so in the coming weeks. In the meantime, it behoves us to highlight the superb meal prepared with such alacrity and skill by three refugee friends from Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan. Everyone was treated to a healthy, abundant, – gourmet! – meal, with no fuss, an amazingly smooth operation which gave the possibility for lively discussion and encounter to happen over dinner before the final Q&A and reluctant dispersal of an engaged local community, brought together to discuss such an urgent issue of our time.
JRS UK works alongside Sally and the team at the Napier Drop-In to offer hospitality, accompaniment and practical support to men held at Napier.
If you can support their work in any way, please do donate at the Napier Drop-In’s JustGiving page.