Patel and charities clash over fire at virus-hit barracks housing asylum seekers

Home Secretary Priti Patel has clashed with refugee charities after a fire broke out at a virus-hit military barracks in Kent where hundreds of asylum seekers have been living.

Heavy smoke and flames were seen pouring from Napier Barracks in Folkestone on Friday afternoon amid blaring alarms.

The barracks, which have been housing around 400 people, has been dogged by accusations of poor conditions and recently at least 120 residents reportedly tested positive for Covid-19.

Ms Patel said the "damage and destruction" at the military site was "deeply offensive to the taxpayers of this country" and vowed to support police.

However, charities accused her of playing politics and making "sweeping accusations".

Eight fire engines were sent to the blaze at the Ministry of Defence-owned facility. The fire is now under control.

Police are investigating and say no arrests have been made and there have been no reported injuries.

"Everyone is panicked," one Napier Barracks resident told PA through a translator, adding he fears something similar may happen again in future.

The blaze came on the same day residents were reportedly told by the Home Office that no more people would be moved from the controversial barracks.

The asylum seeker said he came from a country where he was being persecuted by the government.

Asked about what living at Napier Barracks has been like, the man added: "I have suffered here more than I have ever suffered on earth."

He told PA that the "only dream" for many of them was to "get out of Napier".

Napier Barracks incident
Napier Barracks incident

Ms Patel issued a statement on Friday evening, 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."

She has previously insisted the accommodation was of a "very strong" standard and "in line with PHE guidance".

In response, Kolbassia Haoussou, from Freedom From Torture, said: "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."

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, echoed the criticism of the Home Secretary.

She said: "Priti Patel is playing with fire to make sweeping accusations against tens of people who have fled torture and sexual abuse and been warehoused by her in a Covid hotbed.

"Why can't she allow emergency services to do their job without political interference? Her divisive, inflammatory and knee-jerk response will only fan the flames of prejudice and undermine the rule of law."