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Thousands of asylum seekers to be housed in military sites including former Dambusters base
29 March 2023, 13:12 | Updated: 29 March 2023, 13:49
Thousands of asylum seekers will be housed at military bases across the UK - including one famed for hosting the Dambusters.
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RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire will be used alongside RAF Wethersfield in Essex and a site in East Sussex, it was confirmed today.
The news comes as the Government considers where asylum seekers can live while their claims are processed, with the Government under pressure to get them out of costly hotels.
Reports suggest some 51,000 people are being accommodated in hotels at a price of nearly £7m a day.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said: "Today the Government is announcing the first tranche of sites we will set up to provide basic accommodation at scale.
"The Government will use military sites being disposed of in Essex and Lincolnshire, and a separate site in East Sussex.
"These will be scaled up over the coming months and will collectively provide accommodation to several thousands asylum seekers through repurposed barrack blocks and portacabins."
The scheme has drawn worries from residents near the bases. They say they are worried about the impact on local services and safety.
"We are acutely aware of the need to minimise the impact of these sites on communities," Mr Jenrick said.
"Basic healthcare will be available, around the clock security will be provided on site, and our providers will work closely with local police and other partners. Funding will be provided to local authorities in which these sites are located."
He also claimed Rishi Sunak was "bringing forward proposals" to use the base at Catterick in North Yorkshire - which is is his Richmond constituency.
The Government will also look into using "vessels" to house migrants, Mr Jenrick said, after reports emerged they could use barges to accommodate them.
"We are continuing to explore the possibility of accommodating migrants in vessels, as they are in Scotland and in the Netherlands," he said.
The sites will be used as a stop gap until the Illegal Migration Bill is passed, which should make it easier to deport people who cross the Channel. But the bill is controversial, causing fears about whether refugees will get fair treatment in the UK and its impact on the country's human rights commitments.
The use of the military bases looks set to be another battleground for the Government.
West Lindsey council, which covers RAF Scampton, said it is seeking an injunction or judicial review over the Government's plans for the base, which served as the HQ for the Dambusters, the RAF's 617 Squadron that attacked German infrastructure during World War Two.
It is the target of a £300m regeneration that would bring air, space, education and hospitality facilities to the site, which includes a museum and a memorial.
But the chairman of Scampton Holdings Limited, Peter Hewitt, fears the migrant housing plan could derail it.
'Given a choice of migrant centre of 1,500 single males or £300m regeneration project, we seem to be going for the migrant centre... It's barking mad," he told the Mail.
Mr Jenrick said: "There will be significant package of support for his constituents. There will be specific protections for the unique heritage on the site.
"We don't intend to make any use of the historic buildings, and indeed in our temporary use of the site to ensure that those heritage assets are in fact enhanced and preserved.
"We do see this as a short-term arrangement, and we would like to enter into an agreement, as he knows, with West Lindsey District Council so that they can take possession of the site at a later date and their regeneration plans... can be realised in due course."
Braintree council, which covers RAF Wethersfield, said it was applying for an interim injunction to stop the base being used to house migrants, saying it would break planning rules.
A spokesman for the authority said it expects the application to be heard within a week, and for the case to go to the High Court before any asylum seekers are sent to the base.