Plans to house more than 1,500 asylum seekers at a former military facility in a rural village in northern England have inspired a community backlash with threats of legal action to prevent the airbase ending up as “Guantanamo-on-Ouse” under the UK's immgration reforms
The rural village of Linton-on-Ouse, which is about 13 kilometres from York in North Yorkshire, will in a matter of weeks become the first of a number of new asylum reception centres recently announced by the British government.
Residents of the village, which has a population of about 1,000, have reacted with anger after only being told of the move last week and are exploring legal options to stop the plan.
The initiative will bring more than 1,500 single men seeking asylum to the former RAF base, where Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, trained.
Councillor Darryl Smalley has labelled the scheme “Guantanamo-on-Ouse" and demanded the government backtrack on its plans. “The Conservative's ‘Guantanamo-on-Ouse’ proposal is an ill-thought-out, cruel and morally bankrupt ploy to reduce our obligations to the most desperate people,” he said on Twitter.
He raised concerns following reports of violent incidents at the Mercure York Fairfield Manor Hotel, which houses a government centre serving 90 asylum seekers.
The incidents included one asylum seeker threatening people with a knife and a recent report highlighted further failings at the venue.
“York’s recent experience of the Home Office using of a local hotel to house asylum seekers is the clearest evidence that we need a better, more integrated and humane approach,” Mr Smalley told The York Press.
“The government’s Guantanamo-on-Ouse plan is sadly just a small part of the inhumane and dysfunctional plan. It’s a model which has been shown to be expensive for the taxpayer and is very damaging for the mental health of asylum seekers.”
Local councillors on Monday were due to send planning enforcement officers to the former RAF base.
Mark Robson, leader of Hambledon District Council, said the centre, which does not have planning permission, could not go ahead without permission. He added that he has started discussions with the council to look at taking legal action.
Sally Hough, who supports asylum seekers at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, believes the plans are illegal and has advised the residents to take the matter to court.
“I gave evidence in the Judicial Review that found accommodating asylum seekers in this type of rundown, isolated accommodation to be unlawful,” she said.
“The government closed the camp for a week and reopened it after 'improvements' were made. The camp has been an unmitigated disaster. We're still here, still supporting the men and still fighting.”
The Home Office has said the site will contain healthcare and leisure facilities, including a football pitch, a library and a cinema.
“Those living at the site will be free to come and go but are expected to be on site overnight,” the Home Office said.
“If anyone has not returned by 10pm, a safeguarding call will be made to them. This is not under curfew conditions; it is based on following up on the safety and welfare of the individual.
“There will be on-site recreational and cultural activities.”
Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake has asked the Home Office to rethink the decision and said that if discussions are unsuccessful, the next stage would be a legal challenge.
“We have got right on our side, we have the law on our side. If we take the Home Office to court, we can win,” he said.
“It cannot be right to sacrifice one village for the interests of the nation.
“The only way forward for these plans is to scrap them.”