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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Anger over new asylum sites
Yarl's Wood detention centre on fire
Some people fear a repeat of the Yarl's Wood fire
As many as 15 asylum seeker accommodation centres could be built across the UK - despite an angry response from residents in the locations chosen for the three pilot "villages".

The government plans to build the centres at Throckmorton, near Pershore in Worcestershire, RAF Newton, in Nottinghamshire, and at Bicester, Oxfordshire.

What the home secretary has done is created a recipe for racial tension which seems to be extraordinary

Keith Best

Announcing the plans, Home Office Minister of State Lord Rooker said: "We want to make sure it works and could look at up to 12 to 15 centres if the pilot works."

He said the government wanted to speed up the asylum process, which deals with up to 1,500 claims a week.

BBC political correspondent Andrew Marr said the camps represent an end to the failed 1999 policy of dispersing refugees to towns across Britain, where they were given vouchers to pay for food and essentials.

The change of approach means the government has the problem of persuading people in rural areas that asylum seekers, who are not wanted in towns, should live near them instead.

Alternative policy

With accommodation for up to 750 people at each centre, the controversial developments will be used to house people awaiting decisions on asylum applications.

One refugee group is warning the plans are a "recipe for racial tension" but Downing Street says it is not "dumping people on the countryside with no facilities".

The centres, to be built on Ministry of Defence land, are intended to provide an alternative to the current policy of dispersal.

The government is still considering using three other sites. They are:

  • Sully Hospital, Cardiff, Wales
  • Air West (formerly RAF Turnhouse), Edinburgh
  • RAF Hemswell, Gainsborough, Lincs

But ministers have decided to drop two other alternatives: land near Killingholme power station, near Grimsby, and Hooton Park at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.

Throckmorton airfield is where more than 100,000 animal carcasses were buried at the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

More than 3,000 villagers have signed a petition objecting to a development in their area.

Fire fears

They claim property prices have already fallen after the land was used as a foot-and-mouth burial site.

Sites of new asylum centres
Some local people are anxious about plans to house large numbers of asylum seekers near them, particularly following the riot and fire which destroyed the 100m Yarl's Wood centre.

Steve Mitchell, chairman of Pinvin Parish Council, promised to fight the plans "every step of the way".

As the sites are crown land, the government can use special regulations to get planning permission.

The government says the first centre will be open next year.

It wants four areas to provide places for 3,000 asylum seekers.

Lord Rooker said it was "only fair" responsibility for dealing with asylum seekers was shared right across the country.

'Ghetto' camps

Centre residents would be free to come and go except at night, when they would be expected to be on site.

Proposals to educate children inside the camps have drawn fierce criticism from refugee groups, who advocate small centres in cities, so children could go to local schools.

Lord Rooker
Rooker: The sites will not be used as detention or removal centres

Keith Best, director of the Immigration Advisory Service, is warning they could become "ghetto camps" where refugees were excluded from society when they should be in urban areas.

Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said this was the government's "big bang" solution.

"We do think these centres are just far too big and they are in the wrong place. There's an element of 'we have got to be seen to be doing something'," he told BBC Radio 4's the World At One.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin criticised the system as a "pin prick of a solution" and stressed that asylum applications would take six months to process instead of six weeks.

It would take two years before the "vast, monstrous" centres were running, he predicted.

But Lord Rooker insisted that the system would have failed if it took more than six months.

'Smaller is better'

The prime minister's official spokesman tried to allay local residents' concerns about the centres.

"We are not dumping people on the countryside with no facilities, leaving them to overwhelm the local communities," he said.

If accommodation centres are to succeed then locations should be chosen with maximum political and public agreement

Simon Hughes
Lib Dem
Home affairs

The spokesman said the centres were the size they were because they allowed families to have self-contained facilities.

There would, however, be some contact with local communities, he said, stressing the project was an experiment.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "All the evidence is that smaller accommodation centres looking at nearer to 250 people rather than 750 are more likely to be successful.

"If accommodation centres are to succeed then locations should be chosen with maximum political and public agreement and with the support of all the agencies involved."

The BBC's Sue Haley
"The plans have come under a barrage of criticism"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"These camps are a sign of government desperation"
Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin
"The plan is simply not going to deliver"
Lord Rooker, the Home Office Minister
"The accommodation centre system was a trial"

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See also:

14 May 02 | England
14 May 02 | England
03 Apr 02 | England
01 Apr 02 | England
23 Feb 02 | England
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