The fire broke out on Friday at the Napier Barracks, a decommissioned military complex that now houses asylum-seekers and has been at the center of a recent row between Home Secretary Priti Patel and refugee charities who have called on her to close the facility.
Charities have claimed that the estimated 400 asylum-seekers at the facility have been living in poor conditions in overcrowded dormitories and that a recent Covid-19 outbreak has infected at least 120 people, PA Media reported.
Kent police Saturday said enquiries into the incident were continuing and that “no serious injuries were reported as a result of the incident, however a significant amount of damage was caused to one part of the site following a fire — which is believed to have been started deliberately.”
On Friday, the home secretary took to Twitter to condemn the “shocking scenes” from Napier Barracks where the Home Office said windows were smashed and a building set on fire.
“The damage and destruction at Napier Barracks is not only appalling but deeply offensive to the taxpayers of this country who are providing accommodation while asylum claims are being processed,” Patel tweeted.
“This site has previously accommodated our brave soldiers and army personnel — it is an insult to say that it is not good enough for these individuals,” she added.
Patel’s comments drew some criticism, with the founder of one refugee charity saying the home secretary “should be ashamed of herself” for so quickly pointing the finger at asylum-seekers.
“For a British home secretary to accuse and castigate ordinary people when the facts of this incident are not yet even known is shocking and disturbing,” Clare Mosley, founder of the charity Care4Calais, said in statement sent to CNN.
“This is not simply a careless, off-the-cuff emotional response. It is a misleading, opportunistic smoke screen concocted to deflect attention from the multiple warnings she has had about what was clearly going to happen at Napier barracks,” Mosley added.
Care4Calais, in a Facebook post on Friday, said Napier residents they had spoken to “tell us they are simply terrified.”
“Their future remains uncertain and today’s events create more distress and fear,” it added.