Asylum seekers call for help after Covid outbreak at ex-military barracks amid 'impossible' social distancing

There has been a mass coronavirus outbreak at Napier Barracks in Kent, which is being used to house asylum seekers Credit: PA
  • Words by  ITV News Producer Harry Peet

ITV News has obtained a written statement on behalf of more than 200 asylum seekers living in a former army barracks in Kent calling for "immediate" help after a mass coronavirus outbreak.

Asylum seekers inside the Napier Barracks near Folkestone say at least 120 of the 400 residents tested positive for the virus this week.

On Wednesday, in a sign of unity, around half of the men living in the barracks have backed a letter expressing their concerns about social distancing being “impossible” and that they should not be blamed for the outbreak.

In the letter written by one of the asylum seekers, they say “they [the Home Office] expect all 400 people to practice social distancing.

Napier Barracks is being used by the government to house people seeking asylum in the UK Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

“The question is why did the Home Office put 400 people in one place?

“After so many protests and some suicide attempts, the Home Office still have no intention to improve the situation.

“There are fathers, sons and husbands here.

"There are nurses, teachers, engineers and talented people here and yet we have been treated like criminals or prisoners.”

Speaking to ITV News Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted that the barracks is Covid compliant despite an outbreak of the virus, blaming “issues” with some people within the accommodation not following social distancing guidelines.

Ms Patel said that they are working with the provider on the ground to make sure that “individuals within the accommodation are now following the rules because they’re putting their own health at risk and that of everyone around them, including those working to support them".

  • Priti Patel was asked on Wednesday if the Napier Barracks would close

She also said that the site would not be closing despite increased pressure from charities and the Folkestone MP Damian Collins.

In a letter to the Home Office last week, Mr Collins said “the best solution would be for the asylum seekers to have their claims processed and for this facility to be closed down".

On Tuesday, Home Office minister for Immigration Chris Philp said that he was “incredibly disappointed” to learn that the actions of some residents had contributed to the outbreak.

In a statement he said: “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.”

The Ministry of Defence site was initially secured for six months by the Home Office in September last year as a the government struggled to house the influx of migrants that had crossed the Channel.