On the 14 April the government announced its intention to reopen the old RAF camp on Linton-on-Ouse, 12 miles north of York, as a camp for up to 15,000 asylum applicants. Local people, the local authority and the area’s MP (Kevin Hollingrake) along with refugee organisations oppose the plan. This is the first in a series of Yorkshire Bylines articles that will analyse the proposals and their implications, and report on the campaign. This introductory piece outlines the government’s proposals, what we know so far, and local concerns.
Government policy: background
When a person seeking asylum arrives on British shores they are screened. Those considered a potential security threat are detained pending criminal proceedings or deportation. Most however, are accommodated in the community while their asylum case is being heard. Prior to covid, asylum seekers were accommodated with friends and family or in designated accommodation, shared with other single people or as a family. Following the outbreak of covid and scandals regarding the quality of accommodation, many were moved into hotels.
According to government figures, there are currently (May 2022) 37,000 asylum seekers and Afghan refugees living in hotel accommodation in the UK at an estimated cost of £4.7m a day, of which roughly £3.5m relates to asylum seekers.
The Nationality and Borders Act, which received royal assent on April 26, introduces new ‘reception centres’, acting as ‘one stop shops’ for refugees coming to the UK. Asylum applicants have been accommodated at old military camps previously (Penally Camp and Napier Barracks), but usually for short periods of time, a matter of hours or days in most cases before being more permanently housed. The length of time in these facilities has increased as the backlog of asylum cases, and the pressures on community-based accommodation, has grown.
The Linton-on-Ouse camp is intended to accommodate asylum seekers for the duration of their claim. This is anticipated to be up to six months (the current target for determining asylum claims). Currently there are over 100,000 asylum cases that are over six months old, and just under 70,000 that are over a year old, and the delay is increasing each month.
Government proposal for Linton camp
The government fact sheet states that “upwards of 500” men aged between 18 and 40 years who have not travelled through “safe and legal routes” will be accommodated on the old RAF site. As there are currently no safe and legal routes for anyone who has set foot on European soil, all men who arrive in the UK and seek asylum could be housed there (or somewhere similar).
The Home Office and Ministry of Defence are currently making the site “suitable” and it will be run by “an existing asylum accommodation provider”. The “new asylum reception centre [will] provide basic accommodation and process claims” and it will have all the necessary facilities “on-site” including accommodation and food, health care and access to leisure facilities.
Most of the camp is fenced and topped with barbed wire (some aspects are unfenced) with access to the camp via a security gate. Those accommodated there will be free to come and go and are not detained. The men are expected to be back on the base at 10pm and if they are still absent, a “welfare call” will be made to them. Information released by the Home Office (by mistake it seems) indicated that 10 percent of those on the site might be “locked down” but is not clear what “locked down” means in this context. The Home Office has indicated that detention facilities are not planned, at this stage, but it has not been ruled out for the future.
The village of Linton-on-Ouse is about 11 miles northwest of York. It is in a rural area with a population of about 700 residents. There is a village school, hall and newsagents.
There are some difficulties for village residents accessing services in the local area including health and care services. Buses are infrequent and expensive. The village lacks community-based external support services for asylum seekers such as language classes, places of worship, libraries or recreation facilities.
Asylum seekers are not permitted to work while awaiting a decision (although they can apply for permission after 12 months waiting) and so will not be seeking employment in the village or close by. The camp is intended for single men and there will be no children requiring education.
The village suffers from poor internet, an inadequate sewage system, river flooding and power cuts.
Residents are concerned that the village will be overwhelmed. The proposed ratio of asylum applicants to villagers is 2:1. In addition, there will be site workers, deliveries, and ancillary staff coming and going.
There are concerns that the high concentration of men presents a risk to the safety of local residents, particularly women and children. While these fears are legitimate and must be appropriately managed, experience from other camps such as Napier Barracks suggests that asylum applicants tend not to pose a threat and are respectful and honest. Evidence suggests the risk is likely to come from far-right groups, and the village has already been targeted by extremist racist groups that have been trying to whip up hostility towards refugees.
The Home Office and providers of accommodation for asylum seekers have no experience of running a camp of this size, having previously managed only a few hundred short-stay asylum seekers at any one time. The Home Office’s record of managing asylum accommodation is poor.
Research shows that housing asylum seekers in ordinary housing in the community is the best option for their safety and wellbeing and is also the most cost effective. Camps are not good for mental health, integration or providing access to community resources.
Local people were not consulted on the decision. Nor did the Home Office consult with local authorities (at county, district or parish level), North Yorkshire Police, the MP, local health services, Yorkshire Water, or refugee organisations working locally or linked with other camps. The MP, Kevin Hollinrake, was informed of the decision (without consultation) only two weeks prior to it being publicly announced. The information provided by the Home Office has been poor and lacking in detail and this does not auger well for future engagement.