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.
According to reports in Kent Live, around 120 people at the site – many of whom have crossed the Channel in dinghies from France – have recently tested positive for Covid.
Sources told MailOnline that some 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.
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.
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
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
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
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’
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
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 in Kent is part of the larger Shorncliffe Army Camp near Cheriton in Kent.
The larger camp was first established in 1794, when the area it is now build upon was purchased by the British Army.
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 British monarch King George V.
The wider 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 facilities 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.
‘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.’
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 site 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.’
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.
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
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
The floor also appears wet with tables overturned in what appears to be a kitchen area of the former barracks in Folkestone, Kent
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.
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.’
Meanwhile, 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
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
‘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.