Thousands of migrants to be housed in ex-military bases under UK asylum plans to cut hotel spending

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The government says the UK is spending £6.8 million a day to on hotels for asylum seekers

Thousands of asylum seekers will be housed in disused military bases under new government plans to cut spending on hotels.

Ministers say the bases will be used to accommodate their “essential living needs and nothing more”, despite legal threats from local Conservatives.

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Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said in the Commons on Wednesday (29 March) that migrants will be housed at military sites in Essex, Lincolnshire and East Sussex, in a move designed to reduce the £6.8 million a day the UK says it spends on hotels for migrants.

He confirmed that RAF Wethersfield in Essex and RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire will house migrants despite threats of judicial challenges from Tories in the areas. A separate site on private land in Bexhill, East Sussex, will also be used.

RAF Scampton could be used to house asylum seekers under government plans (Photo: Google)RAF Scampton could be used to house asylum seekers under government plans (Photo: Google)
RAF Scampton could be used to house asylum seekers under government plans (Photo: Google)

Jenrick told MPs the bases were the first tranche of sites the government will set up to provide basic accommodation at scale, and these will be scaled up over the coming months “to provide accommodation to several thousands asylum seekers through repurposed barrack blocks and portacabins.”

He said the government remains committed to its “legal obligations” to house the destitute, but added: “We’re not prepared to go further. Accommodation for migrants should meet their essential living needs and nothing more. Because we cannot risk becoming a magnet for the millions of people who are displaced and seeking better economic prospects.”

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Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had already criticised the plans after reports first surfaced that RAF Wethersfield, near Braintree, could be used to accommodate asylum seekers. He wrote on Facebook: “I highlighted the remote nature of the site, the limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network and that these factors would mean the site wasn’t appropriate for asylum accommodation.”

Meanwhile, Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh has previously criticised the use of Scampton, the former home of the Dambusters during the Second World War, which sits in his Lincolnshire constituency. The MP for Gainsborough, raised concerns after a deal was struck to use it as part of a £300 million regeneration project for the area.

Government sources say each site will have the capacity to house between 1,500 and 2,000 migrants. It is expected that the sites are more likely to be used for new arrivals rather than to rehouse people currently in hotels.

Making a Commons statement on illegal migration, Jenrick said: “The sheer number of small boats have overwhelmed our asylum system and forced the Government to place asylum seekers in hotels. These hotels take valuable assets from communities and place pressures on local public services.

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“Seaside towns have lost tourist trade, weddings have been cancelled and local councils have had their resources diverted to manage them and the hardworking British taxpayer has been left to foot the eye-watering £2.3 billion a year bill.”

The immigration minister added that the government is “continuing to explore the possibility of accommodating migrants in vessels”, such as feerries and barges. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Wednesday that vessels will be used to house asylum seekers where they can be “safely and responsibly” utilised. He told BBC Breakfast there is a “huge cost to the taxpayer” of hotel use and this is “deeply frustrating” to many, while acting as a “pull factor”.

He said: “We will look at the whole range of options, low-cost accommodation, ex-Army barracks and, where it’s appropriate, as has been used elsewhere in Europe, and I think in Scotland as well, vessels if they can safely and responsibly be used. The immigration minister will set out these proposals in detail in the House of Commons later today.”

Raab went on to say that hotels are providing an “incentive” for small boat crossings and this “must end”. He told Sky News: “Nothing’s off the table. We must end this perverse incentive through the hotels and more generally with the hospitality that in a broader sense this country gives, encouraging the wrong people, which is the criminal gangs and illegal migrants, to make these very dangerous journeys. Barges would be one possible option.”

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The Deputy PM also insisted that Cleverly supports housing asylum seekers in disused RAF bases despite the Foreign Secretary voicing opposition to one in his constituency being used. He added: “I know he fully supports this policy.”

Jenrick concluded by insisting the new sites “are undoubtedly in the national interest” to stop the use of hotels and to “save the British public from spending eye-watering amounts accommodating illegal migrants.”

In response, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the announcement is “an admission of failure” as the Cabinet had previously said it would halve Channel crossings four years ago, but “they have gone up twentyfold since then”.

She said: “A year ago they said they would end hotel use, they have opened more than ever. They keep making new announcements, but it just keeps getting worse.”

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Cooper went on to argue that plans to use barges to house asylum seekers shows the government is “desperate to distract” from what its policies will do to the former home of the Dambusters. She added: “The Rwanda flights won’t start this summer. They’ve nowhere to send people too, and instead of speeding up asylum decisions they are just going to cancel them, so that means more people in asylum accommodation and hotels and more flimflam headlines that just don’t stack up.

“Today it was barges, and it turns out there aren’t any. Desperate to distract everyone from the damage they might want to do to the Dambusters heritage, instead they start talking about ferries and barges.

“Three years ago they said the same thing. Last summer the Prime Minister said it would be cruise liners. The Home Office civil servants said ferries would end up costing more than the hotels they are already spending so much money on. So instead the immigration minister has been sent around the country with a copy of Waterways Weekly trying to find barges instead, and he still hasn’t found any.”

The government announcement comes after Rishi Sunak on Tuesday told his Cabinet that the cost of using hotels and the pressure it puts on local areas meant it was not sustainable. The Prime Minister later told MPs that children cannot be exempted from plans to detain people who cross the Channel in small boats to prevent the creation of a “pull factor”.

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Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee, he also downplayed suggestions that flights under the government’s stalled Rwanda policy would begin this summer. A government spokesman said: “We have always been upfront about the unprecedented pressure being placed on our asylum system, brought about by a significant increase in dangerous and illegal journeys into the country.

“We continue to work across government and with local authorities to identify a range of accommodation options. The government remains committed to engaging with local authorities and key stakeholders as part of this process.”

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