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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Diane Taylor

Home Office ordered to stop work on ex-RAF base for asylum seekers

RAF Scampton near Lincoln
RAF Scampton near Lincoln, where the Home Office hopes to accommodate up to 2,000 asylum seekers. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images

A council has ordered the Home Office to immediately halt building work converting a former RAF base into accommodation for asylum seekers.

West Lindsey district council served contractors with a temporary stop notice after a “breach of planning control” at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

The stop notice has been pinned to the gates of the base, home to the 617 Squadron that carried out the Dambusters raid during the second world war and was also the base of the Red Arrows.

The Home Office hopes to accommodate up to 2,000 people there in what it says will be a cheaper alternative to using hotels, where approximately 50,000 asylum seekers are accommodated at a cost of about £6m a day.

The council said the Home Office’s work preparing the site had broken rules over listed buildings and archaeology.

The stop notice refers to “unauthorised development undertaken on the site including but not limited to approximately 4,000 metres of permanent palisade fencing and intrusive surveying works resulting in impact on the four listed hangars, the listed dog’s grave and the impending listed officers’ mess on the site”.

It said the breaches related to the installation of fences, “intrusive” surveying works, groundworks and connections to utilities that had “the potential to cause irreversible damage to important heritage assets”.

Sally Grindrod-Smith, the local authority’s director of planning, said the Home Office “has not provided the necessary information or reassurances”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites provides cheaper and more orderly, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats whilst helping to reduce the use of hotels. We are confident our project, which will house asylum seekers in basic, safe and secure accommodation, meets the planning requirements.”

The stop notice came as about 15 asylum seekers left another accommodation centre, at RAF Wethersfield in Essex, because they said the conditions there were “unbearable”. Their whereabouts are unknown. One told the Guardian on Friday: “I feel like I am a prisoner being held here against my will.”

It is understood that local officials in Wethersfield have raised concerns with the Home Office after 10 asylum seekers left the site earlier this week, reportedly through a hole in the fence.

Asylum seekers are not in detention so are not prevented from leaving the site as and when they wish.

The asylum seeker said five more people had subsequently left and that he estimated only 50-60 were still on the site. He said two people at the site were sick with tuberculosis.

The Home Office disputed this and said only cases of latent TB were present on the site.

A second asylum seeker told the Guardian: “I was in prison in Sudan, then I was in prison in Libya, and now I’m in prison in Wethersfield. People from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iran are here and we are all completely unhappy. This is a forsaken place. The 10 people who left together walked into the village of Wethersfield and looked for a bus to take them to Braintree, the nearest big town to Wethersfield. They arrived and they couldn’t handle the situation here.”

Steve Smith, the CEO of the refugee charity Care4Calais said: “What asylum seekers are experiencing at Wethersfield is akin to state-sponsored cruelty. They are being kept out of sight behind barbed wire. We are already on the brink of a disaster and the camp is only at 10% of the government’s intended capacity.”

The Home Office said: “Despite the number of people arriving in the UK reaching record levels, we continue to provide accommodation – at a cost of £6m a day – for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute, to meet our legal obligation. Accommodation offered to asylum seekers, on a no-choice basis, meets our legal and contractual requirements and they are free to come and go.”

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