Asylum seekers at military base protest over abuse by staff and cramped conditions

The migrants are being housed at the controversial RAF Wethersfield site

A protest by asylum seekers at RAF Wethersfield. Photo: Wethersfield Protests David Price
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Asylum seekers housed at a former military base staged a protest claiming they were verbally abused by staff and forced to live in cramped, prison-like conditions.

Video of the protest at the controversial RAF Wethersfield site obtained by The National shows a group of about 40 migrants demonstrating on the road outside the site in the rain.

The former Cold War base in Essex, about two hours from London, has been chosen to house up 1,700 migrants – many of whom arrived in the UK on small boats – while their asylum claims are processed.

But the decision has angered local people who say the rural area lacks the infrastructure to cope with such a large number of people.

In other footage seen by The National, one of the migrants can be seen talking to a local about conditions inside the camp.

The man describes the camp as “just like a prison” and “too cold”, then explains that the asylum seekers are forced to live six to a room.

“The weather is going to get more cold, there’s going to be snow, how can I live in there? There’s no system to make us warm," he says.

He then goes on to describe how security staff swear at those living om the site adding: "That’s why we’ve come out here."

Others standing beside in the protest him say they don’t feel safe living in the camp.

Local resident David Price, who has been one of the organisers of the campaign against the site, told The National "it's striking how peaceful" the protesters were and they moved aside to let people living near by pass".

"But one of them told me they felt they were living in a prisoner of war camp," he said.

"There's problems with the water and some of them came up to me to show me rashes from skin conditions. There's another told me about his mental health problems.

"The really worrying thing is that they said they were being verbally abused by the security staff. They feel like they've been treated like mud."

RAF Wethersfield is one of several sites, including a barge, the government wants to use for housing asylum seekers in an attempt to cut spending on hotels, which has hit £8 million ($9.6 million) a day.

The site was first used during the Second World War before being taken over by the US Air Force during the Cold War. It was later used as a training centre for the Ministry of Defence’s Police Force.

Locals are concerned about the presence of so many young men in one place and the lack of infrastructure to support the camp, such as the narrow winding roads, and a lack of buses for migrants to use if they want to travel to the nearest town, Braintree, about 14km away.

Their anger is compounded by proposals to build what would be Britain’s biggest prison, and one of Europe’s largest, capable of housing 3,430 inmates, at the site.

A local council and resident have gone to court in a bid to halt the plans, arguing that the government acted unlawfully in using emergency planning regulations to avoid a full consultation with the community.

Earlier this year it emerged that it was found asylum seekers are at a high risk from contact with hazardous material, some of it radioactive, at a former military base being used to house them.

Inside MDP Wethersfield asylum accommodation centre - in pictures

Another study into the site also found nuclear and chemical weapons, including mustard gas, may once have been stored there when it was used by the US Air Force.

A Home Office representative said: “The welfare of individuals at the site is of the utmost priority.

“All appropriate protocols are being followed in accordance with UK Health Security Agency guidance to manage the health of asylum seekers at Wethersfield, including medical care and isolation where appropriate. There is assessed to be no risk to the local community.

“Accommodation offered to asylum seekers, on a no-choice basis, meets our legal and contractual requirements and they are free to come and go.”

Updated: November 17, 2023, 11:16 AM