To the sound of songs including Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story , new arrivals were waved into the facility by more than 200 people from a collection of local charities and activist groups.
From inside the fences, asylum seekers waved back at the welcome party, with one young man holding up a sign saying: “We love you”.
The Home Office is currently housing asylum-seekers at the Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent. Around 400 people are expected to be housed at the Kent facility, which is being run by private firm Clearsprings Ready Homes on behalf of the Home Office.
Bridget Chapman, from event organisers Kent Refugee Action Network, said it was “very moving” to see so many locals out to welcome their “new neighbours”.
“It was a fantastic community mobilisation with many local organisations backing it and bringing people out,” Ms Chapman told The Independent.
“It really demonstrated what a warm and welcoming place Folkestone is, and that most people are very happy to have new neighbours living at Napier Barracks.”
Ms Chapman said a highlight of the day was seeing the response of residents in the barracks to the welcome party: "It was clear that they really appreciated the show of support and we can't wait to be able to do more to help them with whatever they need to thrive and integrate.”
She added the charity was looking at what to do next and expected follow-up events.
A small number of far-right protesters turned up to the event shortly before midday and were separated from the welcome party by police, Kent Online reported.
A young Syrian man being housed in the barracks at Kent told The Independent it was “like a dream” to see the welcoming crowds.
“I was always contemplating suicide until the moment when I saw gatherings and greetings,” the 22-year-old said.
He spoke warmly of “these kind people” who welcomed him, though he complained that conditions at the facility were “generally neglectful”.
Charity workers helping at the barracks echoed his concerns as they warned of a Covid-19 outbreak after an asylum seeker contracted the virus amid crowded conditions, poor sanitation and limited access to medical care.