An old RAF base in Essex will be repurposed to accommodate male asylum seekers starting Wednesday morning, according to sources at Sky News. The government’s decision to utilize Wethersfield Airfield for this purpose was announced in March as an attempt to cut down on the expenses associated with housing asylum seekers in hotels. However, the move has faced criticism from the local authority and residents, prompting Braintree Council to initiate legal action against the decision. Despite these challenges, the government’s plans remain intact, and the first group of asylum seekers is set to arrive at the site tomorrow.
Earlier this week, it was revealed by Sky News that some Army families residing at the base had been given only one week’s notice to vacate the premises. These families claim that they were coerced into leaving and were not given adequate time to make alternative arrangements. Braintree Council released a statement on Monday stating that they had not received official confirmation from the Home Office regarding the arrival date of the asylum seekers. The council is still pursuing legal action in the hopes of addressing unresolved concerns, particularly related to community engagement and funding. They strongly believe that the airbase is an unsuitable location for this purpose.
Government’s Justification for Repurposing Military Sites
The Home Office spokesperson defended the decision, stating that repurposing surplus military sites for accommodation would offer a more cost-effective and organized solution for asylum seekers arriving via small boats. By reducing reliance on hotels, the government aims to provide basic, safe, and secure housing for these individuals while their asylum claims are being processed. The concerns of local communities have been acknowledged, and the government is committed to working closely with councils and key partners to manage the impact of using these sites. This includes collaborating with local police to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place.
The government’s motivation for seeking alternative accommodation options stems from the escalating number of individuals making dangerous small boat crossings across the English Channel. The cost of housing these individuals in hotels while they await the processing of their claims has already reached £6 million. In addition to former military bases, the government is considering housing asylum seekers on barges and utilizing large marquees. These measures are part of a broader strategy to address illegal migration, which is also reflected in the ongoing Illegal Migration Bill.
Illegal Migration Bill and Ongoing Channel Crossings
The government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which passed its latest stage in the Commons on Tuesday after hours of voting, proposes detaining and removing individuals arriving by small boats to their country of origin or a third country, such as Rwanda. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has expressed confidence in the effectiveness of this plan, stating that when potential migrants realize they will not be able to stay, the number of crossings will decrease. However, recent data released by the Home Office contradicts this claim, as over 1,000 people made the treacherous journey across the Channel over the past weekend alone.
On Friday, 686 migrants were detected crossing the Channel in 13 boats, marking the highest number for a single day this year. The following day, 384 migrants successfully made the crossing. In addition, 269 individuals were detected on Sunday, bringing the total number of crossings in 2021 to more than 12,000. Despite the ongoing challenges, the Prime Minister remains steadfast in his belief that the government’s overall strategy is effective and will ultimately deter individuals from attempting these dangerous journeys.
In summary, a former RAF base in Essex will begin housing male asylum seekers as part of the government’s cost-cutting measures. This decision has been met with opposition, leading to legal challenges from the local council. The government justifies repurposing military sites as a cheaper and more orderly solution for accommodating asylum seekers. The ongoing Illegal Migration Bill aims to swiftly detain and remove individuals arriving via small boats. However, the number of Channel crossings remains high, casting doubt on the efficacy of the government’s strategy.