Covid outbreak at asylum seeker camp in ex-Army barracks in Kent sees 120 people test positive
- Open letter sent by asylum seeker at barracks says at least 120 cases identified
- Home Office said ‘number’ of people tested positive, but exact figure not given
- Around 400 people are living at the disused Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent
- Petition to shut site and similar facility in Wales has amassed over 10k signatures
Fears of a health crisis at a military barracks housing asylum seekers in Kent have escalated after 120 people are believed to have tested positive for coronavirus.
Around 400 people are living at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, where a Covid outbreak has added to concerns over conditions.
Residents, many of whom have crossed the English Channel in small boats, have described it as ‘unbearable’ and say social distancing is impossible.
An open letter to ‘all British citizens’ from an asylum seeker living at Napier Barracks and reportedly signed by more than 200 other residents has been shared by refugee charity Choose Love.
The undated letter says that at least 120 cases of coronavirus have been identified at the barracks with more test results pending.
The Home Office has confirmed to MailOnline that a ‘number’ of people at the site have tested positive for the virus, but did not give an exact figur
Fears of a health crisis at a military barracks housing asylum seekers in Kent have escalated after 120 people are believed to have tested positive for coronavirus (pictured: a peaceful protest outside the barracks’ entrance on January 12
People in hazmat suits seen by the disused army barracks in Kent on January 19. Around 400 people are living at the site, where a virus outbreak has added to concerns over conditions
Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: ‘Despite our best efforts a number of those accommodated at the site have tested positive for coronavirus and are self-isolating.
‘It is incredibly disappointing that prior to this a number of individuals refused tests and have been either refusing to self-isolate or follow social distancing rules, despite repeated requests to do so and these being national guidelines to protect the NHS and save lives.
‘These individuals could face enforcement action and are not only risking their own health but the health of staff looking after them and the communities who are accommodating them. Asylum seekers are subject to the same laws and protections as any other member of society.’
The open letter also calls out Home Secretary Priti Patel and immigration minister Chris Philp over conditions at the site.
It says: ‘We came to this country to save our lives. Lives which were mostly in danger because of war and prosecution. Yet we found ourselves in an army camp and we are surrounded by fences and security guards.’
There have been reports of suicide attempts and earlier this month many residents went on hunger strike in protest at the conditions, which reportedly include 34 people sharing one shower.
A view of two people wearing face masks inside Napier Barracks in Folkestone, which is being used by the Government to house people seeking asylum in the UK
A view of Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent. Emergency use of the site was secured for six months in September last year
Several dozen people stood outside the gates of the military facility earlier this month to demonstrate over conditions inside and social distancing concerns
Handout photo issued by Care4Calais of asylum seekers at the barracks conducting a sleep out overnight in protest of the reported cramped conditions
The controversial facility features barbed-wire topped fences and hosted Canadian troops in the Second World War.
A petition to shut down the site, along with a similar facility at a barracks in Wales, has amassed more than 10,000 signatures.
The Home Office, which commandeered the site last year, insists the accommodation in Kent is ‘safe, suitable, (and) Covid-compliant’.
A petition by Freedom from Torture to empty the barracks in Kent and Wales and close them down has racked up more than 10,000 signatures in less than two days.
Kolbassia Haoussou, lead survivor advocate at the charity, said: ‘A major crisis is unfolding in these unsanitary and dangerous places.
Many asylum seekers gathered outside the barbed wire-topped fence at Napier Barracks in Folkestone earlier this month chanting ‘freedom!’ and waving banners
One man attempted to take his own life as he was ‘unable to cope with the conditions there any more’, according to migrant charity Care4Calais
A row of beds at the former disused barracks in Folkestone, Kent, that houses asylum seekers
Handout photo issued by Care4Calais of asylum seekers conducting a sleep out overnight
‘Many of the people trapped here have low immune systems and mental health issues linked to the abuse they have fled.
‘The Government has the power to end this nightmare now. Empty the barracks, close the camps, save lives.’
Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, echoed calls to shut the barracks ‘before they are engulfed by tragedy’.
Immigration minister Chris Philp said: ‘We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and asylum seekers can contact the 24/7 helpline run by Migrant Help if they have any issues.’
Use of Napier Barracks to house asylum seekers was initially authorised for six months under emergency provisions but the Home Office has said it is considering extending its use beyond the current deadline in around March.
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