Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 3 February 2021.

Last week a fire was started deliberately at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, following a dispute between asylum claimants being accommodated there, and the staff that run the facility. There can be no excuse for this action. Arson is a criminal offense, and it could have led to loss of life.

I’m grateful for the emergency services who swiftly took control of the situation at the barracks and ensured that there were no injuries. There has subsequently been a police investigation to determine the cause of the fire, and to identify those who are believed to have been responsible for it. As a result, a number of men have been charged with the offense and are being accommodated securely away from the Barracks and outside of the district.

These are serious offenses, anyone found guilty of them can expect to receive the sentence that would be set for such a crime. A conviction would of course be taken into consideration for anyone making an asylum claim to stay in this country.

On Monday, along with Cllr David Monk, the Leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, I met with Priti Patel the Home Secretary to discuss what had happened at the barracks, and what the Home Office intends to do with the site.

From the reports I have received so far it would seem that the fire last Friday was set following a riot caused by asylum claimants concerned about the spread of coronavirus there and who wished to be accommodated away from that site in hotels.

The day before, because of that coronavirus outbreak, the decision was taken that those who had received a negative COVID test would be accommodated in hotels, which was around 100 people, and that the remaining group at Napier Barracks, around 280 people, would remain there and be accommodated in a COVID secure way approved by Public Health England.

For those that had tested negative around 40 were moved to the Stade Court Hotel in Hythe and the remaining people were accommodated elsewhere, outside of the district.

I have had a number of local residents contact me about this, and I would like to make clear that the asylum claimants staying at the Stade Court were moved there before the fire.

Damian Collins MP

It is the intention of the Home Office to repair the facilities at Napier Barracks and for the remaining asylum claimants there to be accommodated in a COVID secure way. I received reports from concerned residents over the weekend, that there were no amenities available at the barracks due to the fire. It is true that the electricity supply to the barracks was damaged by the fire, and that work is being undertaken to restore it. However, emergency generators were also brought onsite to provide power to the barracks. The Home Office confirmed at the weekend that there was electricity and heating onsite and that food and drink had been available to the asylum seekers throughout.

Since last September, I have expressed my concerns about the suitability of accommodating a large number of young men with little to do for a prolonged period at Napier Barracks. I hope that the Home Office will in time look for other, more suitable accommodation.

However, there can be no excuse for what happened there last Friday. The facilities at Napier Barracks provide food and shelter in a secure setting for asylum claimants, all paid for by the UK taxpayer.

By Ed