Napier Barracks: Five arrests over asylum centre fire
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Napier Barracks: Five arrests over asylum centre fire

image copyrightPA Media

image captionA fire was started in one building at the site and windows were smashed, the Home Office said

Five men have been arrested after a fire at a former barracks where asylum seekers are being held.

Kent Police said one man was held on suspicion of assaulting a security guard and four in connection with the fire at Napier Barracks on Friday.

The Home Office had said a disturbance followed objections by asylum seekers to not being moved from the Folkestone site after a Covid outbreak.

On Saturday, the government said the barracks remained “calm”.

Det Ch Supt Andrew Pritchard said the five men were in custody and the force was working with the Home Office and fire service to “establish the full circumstances and identify any individuals involved”.

He said a team of officers remained at the scene as part of continuing inquiries.

Meanwhile, Folkestone’s council leader David Monk said about 300 asylum seekers were still at the barracks and called for them to be moved to hotels.

“One building has been virtually destroyed, but there is no intention to remove the people from the site,” he said.

He said he never believed it was sensible to put a large group of young men in one place, adding: “It is not a surprise to me that tensions have eventually overridden common sense.”

image copyrightCare4Calais

image captionCare4Calais said it was sent footage by asylum seekers being housed at the barracks

Charity Care4Calais had said asylum seekers were “completely abandoned by the authorities” and left to organise their own accommodation after the fire, without food, drink, heating or light, until volunteers took supplies.

The group posted on Facebook: “What you wouldn’t expect is for everyone to be told to go back inside, but all the lights and heating are turned off so it’s cold and dark. And as the night goes on it gets colder.

“But all the staff have been evacuated so only residents are left alone, with no information or care. Many have Covid and are very sick.”

However, a Home Office spokeswoman said the statement was inaccurate.

She said: “The Home Office is meeting all its statutory duties to accommodate asylum seekers.

“The Napier Barracks site is safe and secure and we are working with our provider to repair the damage that has been done.

“This was a deliberate attack that put lives at risk. There are formal investigations taking place and the police have made arrests.”

According to the department, staff were only asked to stay outside the site while police and fire crews took control of the situation, and were back on Friday night.

‘Vandalised canteen’

Power was cut off temporarily because of the fire and an electrician was restoring power on Saturday.

The canteen was vandalised and food could not be prepared on site, but food is being delivered and three meals a day are being provided, the government said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins have said action will be taken against anyone found to be responsible.

Mr Monk said criminal damage could not be condoned but said prosecutions would count against asylum applications, adding: “One of the tensions that really built up and underlies it all is they aren’t getting to know whether their application will be successful or not.”

image copyrightPA Media

image captionEight fire engines were sent to the former barracks, which is home to about 400 asylum seekers

After the fire, the Home Office said people had “set about destroying the barracks”, with one building set on fire and windows smashed.

Ms Patel described the destruction as “deeply offensive to the taxpayers of this country”.

Clearsprings, the private firm that runs the site, has referred the BBC to the Home Office.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “There are no plans to move any asylum seekers from the site and we are accommodating them all safely in the parts of the site that have not been damaged.

“To provide additional physical support and reassurance to staff and asylum seekers located at Napier barracks, immigration enforcement deployed members of its rapid response team overnight and will continue to attend the site over the weekend.”

It is understood the team was not deployed to undertake enforcement action against anyone.

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