United Kingdom

Thousands demand asylum seeker camp at ex-Army barracks in Kent be shut down amid a Covid outbreak

Thousands of people are calling for two controversial military barracks where asylum seekers are being housed to be shut down amid a mass outbreak of coronavirus.

A petition to close camps in Kent and Wales has racked up more than 8,500 signatures in just a few hours after being launched on Friday morning.

Charities have repeatedly raised concerns about conditions inside Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire since they were commandeered by the Home Office last year. 

In recent days, a coronavirus outbreak has hit the Kent site, where hundreds of people are living behind the barbed wire-topped fences.

A petition calling to close Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire, where asylum seekers are being housed has been signed by thousands of people within hours of its launch. Pictured: Peaceful protesting at the barracks

The petition was launched by charity Freedom From Torture, who said 'the mental health of residents is deteriorating' and there have been 'a number of suicide attempts' amid 'unbearable conditions' in the camps

There are reports of asylum seekers carrying out hunger strikes in protest against the 'unbearable conditions in the camp', which is said to include 34 people sharing one shower. 

There have been further reports of suicide attempts in the Army barracks as mental health among its occupants deteriorates.

A petition launched by charity Freedom From Torture to empty the barracks and close them down on Friday morning has already racked up thousands of signatures.

By around 11.30am, more than 7,500 signatures had been gathered, just hours after the petition went live.

By 3pm, another thousand people had added their name to the petition. 

A view of Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, currently being used by the Government to house people seeking asylum in the UK 

A coronavirus outbreak has hit the military site in Folkestone, Kent, where hundreds of people are living behind the barbed wire-topped fences (pictured: a view of Napier Barracks in Kent)

The petition reads: 'Trapped in the camps, the mental health of residents is deteriorating too and there have been a number of suicide attempts.'  

'Now there's been a Covid outbreak in one of the barracks and it can only be a matter of time before infection is rife in both centres.

'This cannot continue. Send a message to the government: empty the barracks, close the camps, save lives.'

Freedom From Torture said the charity has contacted the government, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the Faculty of Public Health to warn the authorities about the health risks of housing people in the camps.  

Sile Reynolds, senior policy advisor at Freedom from Torture, previously called on the Government to shut the barracks to save lives.

She said: 'A major health crisis is unfolding in these ex-military camps. It is a crisis that was entirely predictable. But the warnings of medical professionals and front line charities have fallen on deaf ears.

Asylum seekers held inside Napier Barracks in Folkestone staging a peaceful protest on January 12

'The horror taking place inside the camps cannot be overstated - they are unsanitary and not COVID secure. It is impossible for people trapped there to maintain any social distance.' 

She added: 'Many people in the camps are vulnerable, having fled torture and persecution, and fall in to this category. This must change. Our message to this government is clear: empty the barracks, close these camps, save lives.'

Use of the Ministry of Defence site was initially authorised for six months under emergency provisions as the Government struggled to house thousands of people who had crossed the Channel and claimed asylum last year.

However the Home Office confirmed that a public consultation on continued use of the site beyond March will open 'soon'.

The petition can be accessed here.

Football news:

Milan scored their 15th penalty of the season in Serie A - the most in the league. Before the record-three 11-meter
Liverpool scored 7,000 th goal in the top division of England - only Everton has more
Manchester United have 0 wins and 1 goal in 7 matches against the big six this season in the Premier League
The Hudson-Odoi hand show: Maguire said the umpires were told it was a penalty. VAR baffled us
Jota misses the match with Sheffield due to illness, Alisson-due to the death of his father
Loew is ready to consider the return of Muller, Hummels and Boateng to the national team
Solskjaer on the arm of Hudson-Odoi: It's a penalty. I'm blind if this is the natural position of the hand