Video clips of flames and smoke billowing from a building at a ‘migrant camp’ at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, were being shared widely on social media on Friday afternoon before emergency services arrived.
Over the course of the weekend, fourteen asylum seekers were arrested as part of the Kent Police’s investigation into suspected arson. One man was charged with assault, although no serious injuries have been reported.
Separately, a journalist working outside the gates on the previous day was also arrested and later released.
“Bad things are going on in there,” he told the BBC about conditions inside the camp. The arrested journalist, Andrew Aitcheson, had been documenting a protest in which demonstrators threw buckets of fake blood over the camp’s front gates.
Over the course of the weekend, fourteen asylum seekers were arrested
The Daily Mail and The Sun reported events as a ‘riot’ although investigating police later denied this. So far, Kent Police have reported finding one smashed window and that one building appeared to have been set on fire.
A second letter written by an asylum seeker was distributed to a charity. The letter apologised for the fire and commended emergency services on the behalf of those at the camp.
The former army barracks has housed 400 asylum seekers since September. It has also generated heavy criticism from human rights activists describing it as inappropriate for asylum seekers and falling short of basic needs. It has also put residents at higher risk of catching coronavirus.
Throughout the pandemic, the risk of a mass outbreak at the camp has been continuous – the majority of the residents sleep in rooms of 28 per room sharing two toilets. In the last weeks, complaints over lack of social-distancing had multiplied.
A journalist working outside the gates was also arrested and later released…“Bad things are going on in there,” he told the BBC
As of Christmas last year, residents at Napier Barracks were chanting in protest at the gates, hunger striking, and sleeping outdoors, which some had reportedly continued to do after an outbreak was reported on 15 January.
The outbreak, initially affecting eight asylum seekers, sparked fears of a mass outbreak given the limited scope for self-isolating. Within days, the number infected had risen to 120, according to residents.
Charities such as ‘Choose Love’ have highlighted that over twenty asylum seekers were on a ‘suicide watch.’ A letter then emerged from asylum seekers pleading for help and confirming reports of the mass outbreak.
The second letter this weekend accurately stated that the Home Office has to all purposes ignored all criticisms of the camp as well as the scale of risk to residents, along with any duty to disclose key health data, such as numbers of positive or negative tests or the numbers of asylum seekers being relocated out of the camp.
The local council of Folkestone and Hythe said on the previous weekend that 100 asylum seekers testing negative for Covid-19 would be moved to alternate accommodation in hotels.
The charity Humans for Rights Network confirmed that small numbers had started being moved out last week and that they seemed to be the oldest among the asylum seekers.
The second letter this weekend accurately stated that the Home Office has ignored all criticisms of the camp, as well as the scale of risk to residents
However, the charity also explained how scared and in a ‘bad way’ many of those remaining were, given that the plan, aimed essentially at reducing some of the cramped nature of rooms, still seemed unlikely to reassure any of them of how successfully social-distancing would work.
According to the charity Care4Calais, the fire started not long after residents received an impersonal letter from Clearsprings, the accommodation provider, saying they would be split into new ‘bubbles’ and would need to self-isolate for a further ten days. Many of the residents, whether infected or still not, went into conditions of shock, it added.
[Header Image: BBC News]