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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Priti Patel slams migrants as fire breaks out at Napier Barracks

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Priti Patel has tonight slammed the behaviour of migrants held at a former army barracks-turned asylum seeker accommodation site, amid reports that a 100-strong group started a riot, torched buildings and threatened staff. 

The Home Secretary strongly condemned the unrest at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, which reportedly broke out after migrants were told they would no longer be transferred to hotels after a Covid outbreak.

She described the behaviour of those involved as ‘deeply offensive to the taxpayers of this country’ and said it was an ‘insult’ to suggest the site, formerly home to British soldiers, was ‘not good enough’ for asylum seekers.   

Ms Patel promised ‘robust action’ against the instigators, as she summoned a Gold Command meeting of senior officials to discuss the incident this evening.

It comes as dramatic footage from the scene shows large plumes of smoke billowing into the sky above the barracks this afternoon.

Dozens of emergency service workers are currently on scene as huge flames can be seen engulfing at least one of the buildings. 

The barracks have been used by the Government to house 400 asylum seekers since September, despite concerns from human rights charities about the conditions.

Around 120 people living within the accommodation – which primarily houses migrants who have crossed the Channel in dinghies from France – have recently tested positive for Covid, according to asylum seekers at the site.

Sources told MailOnline that up to 100 asylum seekers who had tested positive for Covid were moved elsewhere yesterday to ease pressure on the site.

But they say those who remained at the accommodation area became ‘angry’ that some had been allowed to leave and a ‘riot’ was started involving around 100 asylum seekers.

Sources said staff were barricaded into a room, although they managed to get free, while windows were smashed and a building was set on fire.  

Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, tonight told MailOnline there was ‘no excuse’ for the incident and said he has been assured by the Home Office that a ‘full police investigation would be launched’.

Meanwhile, Ms Patel labelled the unrest as ‘insulting’, saying: ‘The damage and destruction at Napier barracks is not only appalling but deeply offensive to the taxpayers of this country who are providing this accommodation while asylum claims are being processed. 

Dramatic footage from the scene shows large plumes of smoke billowing into the sky above the barracks this afternoon after a fire broke out in one of the buildings

Dramatic footage from the scene shows large plumes of smoke billowing into the sky above the barracks this afternoon after a fire broke out in one of the buildings

Dozens of emergency service workers are currently on scene as huge flames can be seen engulfing at least one of the buildings

Dozens of emergency service workers are currently on scene as huge flames can be seen engulfing at least one of the buildings

Photographs from inside the former army barracks in Kent show overturned tables and rubbish and other items strewn across the floor of what appears to be a kitchen area

Photographs from inside the former army barracks in Kent show overturned tables and rubbish and other items strewn across the floor of what appears to be a kitchen area

The barracks have been used by the Government to house 400 asylum seekers since September last year despite concerns about the conditions. Pictured: Groups of people at Napier Barracks after emergency services were called to the incident today

The barracks have been used by the Government to house 400 asylum seekers since September last year despite concerns about the conditions. Pictured: Groups of people at Napier Barracks after emergency services were called to the incident today 

A large group of emergency service personnel, including officers in riot helmets and firefighters in full gear, are at the site this evening following the unrest

A large group of emergency service personnel, including officers in riot helmets and firefighters in full gear, are at the site this evening following the unrest

Dramatic footage shows Napier barracks, where Government is holding hundreds of migrants in Folkestone, Kent, on fire

Dramatic footage shows Napier barracks, where Government is holding hundreds of migrants in Folkestone, Kent, on fire

People living in the surrounding area are advised to keep their windows closed. Pictured: Medics and police officers on scene

People living in the surrounding area are advised to keep their windows closed. Pictured: Medics and police officers on scene

The Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured) condemned the unrest, which reportedly broke out after migrants were told they would no longer be transferred to hotels after a Covid outbreak, as 'deeply offensive to the taxpayers of this country'

The Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured) condemned the unrest, which reportedly broke out after migrants were told they would no longer be transferred to hotels after a Covid outbreak, as ‘deeply offensive to the taxpayers of this country’

According to reports in Kent Live , around 120 people at the site - many of whom have crossed the Channel in dinghies (pictured: A Library image of migrants being brought ashore in Dover) from France - have recently tested positive for Covid

According to reports in Kent Live , around 120 people at the site – many of whom have crossed the Channel in dinghies (pictured: A Library image of migrants being brought ashore in Dover) from France – have recently tested positive for Covid

‘This type of action will not be tolerated and the Home Office will support the police to take robust action against those vandalising property, threatening staff and putting lives at risk.

‘This site has previously accommodated our brave soldiers and army personnel – it is an insult to say that it is not good enough for these individuals.’

The historic military site which once housed soldiers on their way to Europe in the First World War: A history of Napier Barracks  

Napier Barracks is part of the larger Shorncliffe Army Camp near Cheriton, Kent.

The wider-camp was first established in 1794, when the area it is now build upon was purchased by the British Army.

The camp was home to the famed Light Division, who were trained there by Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore in 1803 before fighting under the Duke of Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars.

Napier Barracks itself wasn’t developed until 1890, when the camp was developed into a series of unit lines.

The wider Shorncliffe site was used during the First World War as a staging post for soldiers preparing to join the Western Front.

Again in the Second World War, the site was called upon as a staging post for soldiers preparing to join the fight in Europe.

And it was visited in 1939 by Queen Mary, the wife of the then British monarch King George V.

The Shorncliffe site has hosted various units over the years, including The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who are based at Sir John Moore Barracks.

Last year the Home Office secured a one-year deal to use Napier Barracks as accommodation for migrants.

The site is for single male migrants only, with no women or children allowed. 

The site has its own medical team and provides food for migrants being kept there while their asylum claims are assessed.

Tensions have risen in recent days after a coronavirus outbreak hit the site, prompting some residents to reportedly sleep outside for fear of contracting Covid-19. 

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She added: ‘I am fixing our broken asylum system, and will be bringing forward legislation this year to deliver on that commitment.’

A MailOnline source said that those found to have been involved in the incident could have it used against them by the Home Office in their asylum applications.

Meanwhile, Folkestone MP Damian Collins told MailOnline: ‘There can be no excuse for what has happened there. The fire could have led to loss of life and I would like to thank our emergency services for the way they took charge of the situation.

‘The Home Office have assured me that there will be a full police inquiry into the events at Napier Barracks leading up to the fire, and that those found to be responsible will face criminal charges.’

Migrant charity Care4Calais said the incident had been sparked by an ‘upsetting afternoon’ for those living at the site – which is used as a hostel for single male migrants while their asylum claims are assessed.

In a post on Twitter, the charity said: ‘A fire has broken out and fire engines have been called to Napier Barracks in Folkestone following an upsetting afternoon for the residents.’

Others at the scene have said residents staying at the barracks are terrified and likened the area to a ‘war scene’. 

Pictures from the scene show dozens of emergency services in attendance including police and ambulance crews. 

A spokesman for Kent Fire and Rescue Service said: ‘We have been called to assist Kent Police at the Napier Barracks in Folkestone, following reports of a fire. Eight fire engines have been sent to the scene.

‘People living and working in the surrounding area are advised to close their windows and doors as a precaution, due to smoke coming from the incident. People are also asked to avoid the area.’

A Kent Police spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We were called to a report of a disturbance at Napier Barracks in Folkestone at around 2pm on Friday 29 January.

 ‘There was also a report of a fire in one part of the building. Officers are at the location, along with Kent Fire and Rescue Service.

‘At this stage there have been no reported injuries and enquiries remain ongoing to determine the cause of the fire and establish whether any offences have been committed.’

Napier Barracks was converted into an asylum seeker hostel after the Home Office secured a one-year deal with the Ministry of Defence to lease the site in September last year.

The site is used to house asylum seekers while their claims are reviewed and was acquired as a temporary measures to allow the Home Office to deal with a backlog of cases.

More than 8,000 migrants crossed the English Channel from France last year – more than four times the number in 2019.

As part of Covid-19 regulations, those being taken to Napier Barracks will have been held in other facilities for at least two weeks. The site also has its own onsite healthcare team, while catering teams provide meals for asylum seekers.

A petition to close the camp in Kent and a similar facility in Wales has racked up more than 18,000 signatures after it was launched a week ago. 

Charities have repeatedly raised concerns about conditions inside Napier Barracks and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire since they were taken over by the Home Office last year.  

Last week refugee charity Choose Love, who shared an open letter claimed to be signed by 200 migrants inside Napier Barracks, claimed hundred of migrants were suffering similar ‘prison-like’ conditions at Penally Barracks. 

Kent Fire and Rescue Service say they were contacted by police shortly after 2pm with reports of a fire and are still on scene

Kent Fire and Rescue Service say they were contacted by police shortly after 2pm with reports of a fire and are still on scene

Pictures from the scene show large flames emerging from at least one building and huge plumes of smoke billowing into sky

Pictures from the scene show large flames emerging from at least one building and huge plumes of smoke billowing into sky

A large plume of smoke was seen billowing from the former barracks this evening after the unrest at the former barracks in Kent

A large plume of smoke was seen billowing from the former barracks this evening after the unrest at the former barracks in Kent

Kent police with riot helmets on while attending the incident at Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, this afternoon

Kent police with riot helmets on while attending the incident at Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, this afternoon

The floor also appears wet with tables overturned in what appears to be a kitchen area of the former barracks in Folkestone, Kent

The floor also appears wet with tables overturned in what appears to be a kitchen area of the former barracks in Folkestone, Kent

‘No excuse’ for actions at Napier Barracks, says local MP Damian Collins

Tory MP Damian Collins says there can be ‘no excuse’ for the actions of those behind the disorder at Napier Barracks.

Mr Collins, who represents Folkestone, hit out at those behind the incident, saying the fire ‘could have led to loss of life’. 

He also thanked emergency services for their response.

In a statement sent to MailOnline, he said: ‘I have discussed the situation at Napier Barracks this afternoon with the Home Office. There can be no excuse for what has happened there.

‘The fire could have led to loss of life and I would like to thank our emergency services for the way they took charge of the situation.

‘The Home Office have assured me that there will be a full police inquiry into the events at Napier Barracks leading up to the fire, and that those found to be responsible will face criminal charges.’

‘The asylum claimants staying at Napier Barracks were in a facility that was safe and secure, where they were being provided with food and shelter at the taxpayers’ expense. This is a difficult time for the whole country and these actions have put more strain on public resources.

‘Alongside the police investigation into the events at Napier Barracks there will also be a review of the security of the site and the use of the remaining facilities there.’

 

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In the open letter to ‘all British citizens’, the migrants of Napier Barracks slammed Home Secretary Priti Patel and Immigration Minister Chris Philp for ‘intentionally ignoring us and trying their best to cover the disaster which is happening in this army camp’. 

The letter added: ‘It is vital to understand that no one choose to leave the country that they born in, no one choose to leave their family and loved ones behind.

‘We came to this country to save our lives. Lives which were mostly in danger because of war and prosecution.

‘Yet we found ourselves in an army camp and we are surrounded by fences and security guards.’ 

Meanwhile Freedom from Torture launched a petition to empty the barracks in Kent and Wales and close them down racked up more than 10,000 signatures in less than two days. 

Kolbassia Haoussou, Lead Survivor Advocate from the UK-based charity, said: ‘We are horrified at the news of a fire at the former army barracks in Folkstone being used to house asylum seekers. We hope all residents, staff and emergency workers are safe.

‘Only today Freedom from Torture and other groups wrote to the Home Secretary to urge her to close the barracks immediately. Nearly 20,000 people have signed our petition to close the camps in the past few days.

‘By mocking the vulnerability of asylum seekers, the Home Secretary would rather shirk responsibility and play politics with people’s lives.

‘Many of the people trapped here suffer from severe mental health issues and low immune systems linked to the abuse they have fled. The camps are unsafe, unsanitary and unfit to house vulnerable people.

‘The government must close the camps now and transfer everyone to safe, Covid-secure accommodation without delay.’

A spokesman for the Kent Refugee Action Network told Kent Online: ‘We don’t yet know exactly what has happened but what we do know is the barracks are unsafe with many cases of Covid being confirmed, and positive cases sharing dorms with those who had tested negative.

‘Those inside were at risk and becoming more and more desperate at the lack of action. It should have already been emptied and closed down.

Police with riot helmets standing by people on scene claim residents at the barracks are terrified and likened it to a war scene

Police with riot helmets standing by people on scene claim residents at the barracks are terrified and likened it to a war scene

Kent fire crews have been battling the blaze since 2pm this afternoon and are being assisted by Kent police

Kent fire crews have been battling the blaze since 2pm this afternoon and are being assisted by Kent police

Charities have been calling for the barracks to be closed over concerns regarding the conditions residents were facing

Charities have been calling for the barracks to be closed over concerns regarding the conditions residents were facing

A large group of police officers are seen on the outskirts of the barracks, near to a police van, following the incident at Napier Barracks today

A large group of police officers are seen on the outskirts of the barracks, near to a police van, following the incident at Napier Barracks today

The officers were seen on the outskirts of the asylum seeker site as smoke can be seen bellowing from one of the buildings

The officers were seen on the outskirts of the asylum seeker site as smoke can be seen bellowing from one of the buildings

‘Had the Home Office heeded the calls to act urgently we would not be in this position now.

‘We hope all residents, staff and emergency workers responding to the situation are safe.’

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, echoed calls to shut the barracks ‘before they are engulfed by tragedy’.

Over the weekend, it emerged that a coronavirus outbreak had ravaged the Kent site with 120 thought to have tested positive. 

A number of migrants were reportedly evacuated from the site this week and taken to alternative accommodation in a bid to control the outbreak.

But some migrants who had been left behind and are still negative claimed they were being forced to share rooms with Covid-positive patients.

There are reports of asylum seekers carrying out hunger strikes in protest against the ‘unbearable conditions in the camp’, which is said to include 34 people sharing one shower.  

A large group of around 50 also chanted “freedom” during a protest holding makeshift signs and painted bedsheets to let their feelings be known. 

There have been further reports of suicide attempts in the Army barracks as mental health among its occupants deteriorates.

Just yesterday charity campaigners poured fake blood near to the entrance to the site as a protest at the alleged treatment of migrants. 

The Home Office, which took over the site last year, insisted the accommodation in Kent is ‘safe, suitable, (and) Covid-compliant’.

At the weekend the department said that a number of asylum seekers were being moved from Napier Barracks ‘temporarily’ into self-isolation facilities.  

This post was first published on DailyMail.

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