First small boat migrants arrive at former RAF base - look inside the camp set to house 1,700 people by autumn

13 July 2023, 09:46

Inside Britain’s new large-scale asylum camp
Inside Britain’s new large-scale asylum camp. Picture: Alamy/PA

By Emma Soteriou

The first 46 asylum seekers have arrived at a former air base in Essex which has been turned into temporary accommodation - here's a first look at inside the camp.

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The first group arrived at the converted Wethersfield Airfield air base on Wednesday.

Migrants will be able to stay there for a maximum of nine months while their applications are considered, the Home Office has said.

They will be free to leave for up to seven days at a time or for 14 days within any six-month period.

Read more: People trafficker jailed for more than 12 years - after 39 Vietnamese migrants died in a lorry container

Read more: Rishi Sunak is 'throwing absolutely everything' at stopping migrant boats but warns it won't happen 'overnight'

The briefing centre at Wethersfield
The briefing centre at Wethersfield. Picture: PA
The on-site medical centre
The on-site medical centre. Picture: PA

The site includes a GP surgery, accommodation blocks, a dining hall with meals three times a day, a multi-faith centre and recreation facilities including an indoor basketball court and a gym.

First 50 asylum seekers arrive at Wethersfield Airfield in Essex

Cheryl Avery, director for asylum accommodation for the Home Office, said the camp will be "fully functional" by autumn with up to 1,700 single adult men there.

"We've got about 50 people arriving today from various locations, but they arrived at our facility in Kent at the weekend on small boats," she said.

A gym is among the new facilities at the camp
A gym is among the new facilities at the camp. Picture: PA

Asylum seekers arriving at the processing facility in Kent will be screened, with biometric and health testing, and assessed for suitability for the Wethersfield site.

Ms Avery said the cohort at Wethersfield will be single adult men, and, following the first set of arrivals, the Home Office will "ramp up".

"The plan is we will go to a maximum of 1,700 by the autumn, the site will be fully functional by that point," she said.

Bedrooms in the camp
Bedrooms in the camp. Picture: PA

Everyone who arrives at the Wethersfield site will be presented with a welcome pack at the briefing centre.

It contains toiletries and details, in a person's own language, on "what it is to be a good neighbour", Ms Avery said.

She added that there are "ongoing sessions" about integrating into the community.

The on-site basketball court
The on-site basketball court. Picture: PA

It comes amid an ongoing stand-off over the Government's controversial plans to tackle the small boats crisis is Parliament.

There have been demands for further changes to the Illegal Migration Bill, including limits to the detention of children, modern slavery protections and the provision of safe and legal routes for refugees to the UK.

The menus are written in several languages
The menus are written in several languages. Picture: PA

The Commons overturned a raft of earlier revisions by the unelected chamber, despite rebellions by Tory MPs concerned about the flagship reforms.

The Home Office had offered several concessions on Monday, including ditching a move to backdate removals to March when the draft legislation was first introduced to Parliament.

But the Lords are insisting that the Government gives much more ground.