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UK local authority loses bid to stop asylum seekers being housed at air base

FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak drinks water during a press conference following the launch of new legislation on migrant channel crossings at Downing Street on March 7, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

A local authority in southeastern England on Friday lost a bid at London's High Court to stop the British government from accommodating asylum seekers at a former military base.

Braintree District Council, in Essex to the northeast of London, had sought an injunction to prevent the Home Office (interior ministry) housing up to 1,700 asylum seekers at the site.

The council said the government was wrongly using emergency powers to house asylum seekers at the air base, which its lawyers said in court filings was "driven by cost".

Judge David Waksman said on Friday he had no jurisdiction to grant the council an injunction. However, the judge granted the council permission to appeal against his ruling.

A Home Office spokesperson welcomed the decision, saying in a statement that "surplus military sites will provide cheaper and more suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats whilst helping to reduce the use of costly hotels".

Documents filed with the court for a hearing on Wednesday stated that, as of March, Britain was estimated to be accommodating more than 109,000 asylum seekers, with 48,000 in hotels at a cost of 6.2 million pounds ($7.7 million) per day.

Braintree District Council said it was disappointed with the ruling, but welcomed that it would be able to appeal.

The case will likely be considered by the Court of Appeal, and could affect Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservative government's plans to use other disused military bases to house asylum seekers.

Britain anticipates 56,000 migrants will cross the Channel in small boats to its shores this year, according to court documents filed by its interior ministry.

That would mean the government would need to accommodate as many as 140,000 asylum seekers, the filings showed.

Sunak has made stopping boat arrivals one of his five priorities after more than 45,000 migrants arrived on the south coast of England in 2022. The number was a record and marked a 500% increase in the last two years.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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