Priti Patel has tonight slammed the ‘appalling’ behaviour of migrants held at a former army barracks-turned asylum seeker accommodation amid reports that they 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 described it as an ‘insult’ to suggest the site, formerly home to British soldiers, was not good enough for asylum seekers.
She promised a ‘robust action’ against those involved, as she summoned a gold command meeting to discuss the incident this evening.
It comes as dramatic footage from the scene shows large plumes of smoke billowing into the sky at the barracks, where a fire has started at the facility.
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 last year despite concerns about the conditions.
Reports from the scene have suggested the fire was started as a riot broke out at the facility this afternoon after residents were reportedly told there were to be no more transfers from the barracks despite an outbreak of Covid.
Tonight 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.
‘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.
She added: ‘I am fixing our broken asylum system, and will be bringing forward legislation this year to deliver on that commitment.’
Meanwhile, migrant charity Care4Calais said the incident had been sparked by an ‘upsetting afternoon’ for those living at the site.
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’.
Dramatic footage shows Napier barracks, where Government is holding hundreds of migrants in Folkestone, Kent, on fire
The fire was reported to Kent fire and rescue service shortly after 2pm this afternoon and at least eight crews are 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 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’
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.’
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
Kent police with riot helmets on while attending the incident at Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, this afternoon
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 commandeered by the Home Office last year.
The petition by Freedom from Torture to empty the barracks in Kent and Wales and close them down racked up more than 10,000 signatures in less than two days.
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
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
‘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.
There have been further reports of suicide attempts in the Army barracks as mental health among its occupants deteriorates.
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.
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