Government warned of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ if asylum camps on military bases and barges go ahead

171 organisations have written to the Prime Minister to urge him to ‘listen to common sense’ and scrap plans for asylum camps at Wethersfield, Catterick, Bexhill and Scampton, as well as on ferries and barges. 

The letter, which has been signed by national and local organisations across Britain including Asylum Matters, says the sites are ‘deeply unsuitable’ and the Government risks creating ‘an entirely preventable humanitarian catastrophe’ if it presses ahead with plans to house people seeking asylum on these sites. 

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick MP announced on 29 March 2023 that long-trailed plans for camps on former military sites would go ahead. The sites identified are former RAF bases at Scampton, Lincolnshire, Wethersfield in Essex, and Catterick, North Yorkshire, and the site of a former prison in Bexhill, East Sussex. The Government has also stated its intention to use ferries and barges as accommodation. 

The new sites follow the Government’s withdrawal of the plan for a site on an ex-RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, last year, after a concerted campaign from local residents and refugee supporting organisations, which Asylum Matters was proud to support. 

The full letter and list of signatories is below.

Dear Prime Minister,

We write to express our opposition to the Government’s plans to warehouse and segregate people seeking asylum on military bases, former prison sites, ferries and barges. 

We believe people should be housed in communities, not camps. Placing thousands of people in confined sites, in remote locations, will cause significant harm to people fleeing war and persecution and damage community relations. The sites at Wethersfield, Scampton, Bexhill and Catterick are deeply unsuitable, as was the planned site at Linton-on-Ouse. The proposals for the use of ferries and barges are risible and should not even be under consideration. 

If these sites are allowed to go ahead, people seeking safety will find themselves isolated in prison-like conditions without adequate advice, healthcare, or support. These facilities will segregate and re-traumatise people, and are being planned with no consideration of either the needs of people seeking asylum or local communities. The complete lack of prior consultation with the communities where these sites are planned is inexcusable and emblematic of the Home Office’s wider approach. 

Further, plans in the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill to significantly increase the scope for detention, raise the prospect of mass incarceration of people seeking safety. This is despite the scandal of Manston, where people were forced to exist in squalor beyond legal time limits. The racism behind an approach that visibly segregates people and forces them to live in prison-like conditions cannot be ignored.

Segregating people in this way, and doing so without any consultation with local residents, inevitably leads to community tensions. Furthermore, this approach creates clear targets for the far right, as we have seen in Manston, Knowsley, Llantwit Major, Linton-on-Ouse and other towns. It is only thanks to ordinary people standing up for a culture of welcome and solidarity in these areas that those tensions have not escalated further. But the Government’s plans, coupled with its incendiary rhetoric, means these divisions are only going to get deeper, and the problems more acute. 

The use of hotels as ‘contingency’ asylum accommodation is a result of the Home Office’s enormous backlog of asylum cases, and its failure to work with local authorities to adequately plan and resource the asylum dispersal system. While private companies make huge profits from the outsourcing of asylum accommodation, people suffer and resentment grows. 

The solutions lie not in headline-grabbing announcements and punitive accommodation regimes aimed at deterrence—none of which will succeed in their stated aims. The safest, quickest and most cost-effective way to end the use of hotels and fix the problems in our asylum accommodation system would be through making fair and timely decisions on people’s asylum claims. The Government must also recommit to working in partnership with local authorities and devolved administrations to improve asylum dispersal and accommodation, with adequate resources and meaningful consultation. Finally, the Government must scrap the Illegal Migration Bill that will only exacerbate these problems, and cause even more harm. These measures would be a step towards a system that enables people to rebuild their lives in our communities, in safety and dignity.

This is a manufactured crisis of the Government’s own making, and we refuse to stand by while vulnerable people and local communities pay the price. We urge you to listen to common sense and change course now, before you create an entirely preventable humanitarian catastrophe. 

Yours sincerely,

Paul Hook, Director, Asylum Matters 

Nicola Jenner, Digital Communications Officer, The Pickwell Foundation

Phil Davis, Director, Hope Projects

Elli Free, Director, Room to Heal

Caitlin Boswell , Policy & Advocacy Manager, JCWI 

Vicki Felgate and Kayte Cable, Co-Founders, Big Leaf Foundation

Eiri Ohtani, Director, Right to Remain

Denise McDowell, CEO, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit

Jeremy Thompson, Manager, Restore – a project of Birmingham Churches Together

Sally Daghlian OBE, CEO, Praxis

Ros Holland, Chief Executive, Boaz Trust

Dr Mohamed Nasreldin, Director, North of England Refugee Service

Emily Crowley, Chief Executive, Student Action for Refugees

Maddie Harris, Director, Humans for Rights Network

Steve Newman, Chair, FODI, Sunderland

Ruth Hicks, Lay Chair, Stockton St Peter’s Church

Robert Miller, Group Secretary, Wearside Amnesty Group

Stuart Crosthwaite, Secretary, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)

George Reiss, Vice-chair, Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary

Clare Hurst, Deputy Centre Director, North East Law Centre

Stephanie Neville, Project Manager, Stories of Hope and Home

Rabiyah K Latif, Birmingham Coordinator, Near Neighbours

Mark Goldring, Director, Asylum Welcome

Eleanor Brown, Managing Director, CARAS

Duncan McAuley, CEO, Action Foundation

Kate Alexander, Director, Scottish Detainee Visitors

Thomas Martin, Director, City of Sanctuary Sheffield

David Brown, Chair, Birmingham City of Sanctuary

Amanda Church-Mcfarlane, Co-CEO, Abigail Housing

Amos Schonfield, Founder & CEO, Our Second Home

Alison Cookson, Coordinator, Social Action Group of Newcastle Reform Synagogue

Mary Solomon, Founder, Humans of Wolverhampton

Polly Gifford, Co-Chair, Hastings Community of Sanctuary

Amber Bauer, CEO, forRefugees

Jo Benefield, Campaign Coordinator, Bristol Defend Asylum Seekers Campaign

Aderonke Apata, Founder and CEO, African Rainbow Family

Aderonke Apata, Founder and Chairperson, Manchester Migrant Solidarity

Zrinka Bralo, CEO, Migrants Organise

Satinder Collins, Chair, Tees Valley of Sanctuary

Mel Steel, Director, Voices in Exile

Naomi Webb, Executive Director, Good Chance Theatre

Penny Henry, Spokesperson, Tynemouth Together with Refugees

Frank Parnham, Secretary, Barnsley Borough City of Sanctuary

Joanne MacInnes, Director, West London Welcome

John Mellor, Member, Ripon City of Sanctuary

Heather Davies, Secretary, Hereford Amnesty International Group

Veecca Smith Uka, Co-founder, Fresh Grassroots Rainbow Community

Leeds Anti-Raids Action

Karen Pearse, Director, PAFRAS

Richard Davies, Chair of trustees, Wakefield District City of Sanctuary

Deniz Ugur, Deputy Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition

Keziah Berelson, Co-Artistic Director, Mafwa Theatre

Michal Chantkowski, Manager, International Community Organisation of Sunderland (ICOS)

Rev Gerard Goshawk, Minister, Six Ways Erdington Baptist Church

Layla Ismail, Development Manager, Refugee Women of Bristol

Angela Palmer, ESOL Development Worker, Migrant English Support Hub (MESH)

Anna Jones, Co-Founder and CEO, RefuAid

Nick Beales, Head of Campaigning, RAMFEL

Catharine Walston, Trustee, Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign

Will Sutcliffe, Chair, Bradford City of Sanctuary

Bridget Young, Director, NACCOM

Mark Courtice, Chair of Trustees, Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group

Bail for Immigration Detainees

Marissa Green, Chair of Trustees, Cambridge Convoy Refugee Action Group

Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director, Women for Refugee Women

Charles Dobson, Chair, Skipton Refugee Support Group

Karen Whiteread, Director, PramDepot

Joanne Thorns, Project Coordinator, Communities Together Durham

Annika Joy and Lorraine McGrath, Director and CEO, Simon Community Scotland

Dr Natalia Paszkiewicz, Project Lead, Da’aro Youth Project

Halaleh Taheri, Founder & Executive Director, Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation-MEWSO

Andrea Kilvington, CEO, Standing Together

Souad Talsi MBE, Founder & Interim CEO, Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre

Angie Herrera, Director, Latin American Women’s Aid

Stacy Smith, CEO, Her Centre

Rob Hooper, Pastor, OASIS Church, inner Birmingham

Karen Ingala Smith, CEO, nia 

Wendy Lewis, Manager/Founder, Free2B-Me LGBTQ+ Community Organisation

Sonia Jalal, Founder and Director, Hull Sisters

Ryn Bentham, Deputy Manager, Asha North Staffordshire

Seána Roberts, Manager, Merseyside Refugee Support Network

Seána Roberts, Administrator, Liverpool City of Sanctuary

Gisela Valle, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Service

Amber Ray, Communications and Engagement Officer, Calderdale Valley of Sanctuary

Andrew Harwood, Project Manager, Welcome Group Halesowen

Shantele Sutherland, Director/CEO, Cheshire, Halton & Warrington Race & Equality Centre

Ben Gilchrist, CEO, Caritas Shrewsbury

Revd. Ian Rutherford, City Centre Minister, Methodist Central Hall Manchester

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Rev. Dr. Joseph Cortis, Coordinator, Caritas Leeds (Catholic Diocese)

Tony Pearce, Chair, Stafford Welcomes Refugees

Shafiq Ahmed, Founder, Haji Bashir Ahmed Foundation

Kathryn Ashworth, CEO, Solace Surviving Exile and Persecution

Jas Bhatoa, Senior Legal Officer, Rights of Women

Mimi Wilsher, Policy Coordinator, Caritas Salford

Peter John Chapman, Co-ordinator for RAS development, Stockton Baptist Church

Caroline Voaden, CEO, Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services

Phil Kerton, Co-Director, Seeking Sanctuary

Ted Britton, Chair of Trustees, West Yorkshire Destitute asylum Network (WYDAN)

Azizzum Akhtar, CEO, Rotherham Ethnic Minority Alliance

Sarah Teather, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service UK

Josie Naughton, CEO & Co Founder, Choose Love

Enver Solomon, CEO, Refugee Council 

Mike Wild, Chief Executive, Macc

Siobhan Taylor-Ward, Solicitor, Vauxhall Community Law and Information Centre

Moyra Irving, Director, The Extra Guest

Sarah Wilson, Director, Penrith and Eden Refugee Network

Jabeer Butt, CEO, Race Equality Foundation

Alison Boydell, Co-founder, JURIES

Emma Hawthorne, Chair, BIRCH Birmingham Community Hosting

Rachel Wing, Treasurer, Refugee and Asylum Project Stockton on Tees

Christopher Halliday, Volunteer, Oldham Unity

Julie Longden, Founder, United Peoples Movement

Ernie Whalley, Chair, Reach Project for Asylum seekers, Huddersfield

Sheila Mosley, Member of the Steering Group, Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network – QARN

John McKernaghan, Chief Officer, The Brunswick Centre

Elizabeth Crompton, Founder, Allyship

Nina Houghton, Joint Coordinator, Merseyside Solidarity Knows No Borders

Andy Collins, Coordinator, Borderland Voices, arts for health and mental well-being

Major Adrian Lee, Commanding Officer / Minister, The Salvation Army Huddersfield

Barbara Forbes, Local coordinator, Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary

Sally Smith, Managing Director, Sanctus

Jayne Butler, CEO, Rape Crisis England & Wales

Fran Wood, Chair, Darlington Assistance for Refugees

Sue Arnall, Honorary Treasurer, the Eagles Wing

Ann Bettys, Clerk, Huddersfield Quaker Meeting

Jaqui Cotton, Chair, Growing Together Levenshulme

Jane Wood, Project Coordinator, Shared Goods Charity

Jane Wood, Steering Group Member, Sanctuary Kirklees

Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, Deputy Director, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit 

Andy Brown, Committee Member, Harmony Choir Leeds

Maureen Connolly, CEO, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid

Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive, Refugee Action

Rachel Adamson and Laura Tomson, Co-Directors, Zero Tolerance

Philip Moore, Director, Moores Metals

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Women’s Budget Group

Liz Hibberd, Strategic and Partnership Lead, Manchester City of Sanctuary

Rebecca Kogan, Fresh Claims Project Coordinator, Nottingham Arimathea Trust

Clare Campbell, Operations Manager, Walking With in North Tyneside

Ewan Roberts, Centre Manager, Asylum Link Merseyside

Sebastian Rocca, Founder and CEO, Micro Rainbow CIC

Kathleen Grant, Secretary/Trustee, RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research)

Heather Petch, Executive Director, Refugee Futures Ltd

Sarah Jemison, Chair of Trustees, BEACON (Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern)

Dr Kate Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Just Futures Centre for Child, Youth, Family and Community Research, University of Huddersfield

Diana Nammi, Executive Director, IKWRO – Women’s Rights Organisation

Jules Palfreyman, Chair, Greater Manchester Equality Alliance (GM=EqAl)

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, CEO, Surviving Economic Abuse

Mia Hasenson-Gross, Executive Director, René Cassin, the Jewish voice for human rights

Phillip J Welldrake, Secretary, Greater Manchester Patients Not Passports

Alyson Rosemary Malach, Director, EDUK

Aasifa Usmani, Programme Manager, The Faith and VAWG Coalition

Iona Taylor, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, Positive Action in Housing

Simon Tyler, Executive Director, Doctors of the World UK

Tracy Blackwell, Director of Strategic Insights and Partnerships, Refuge

Traci Kirkland, Head of Charity, Govan Community Project

Jo Cobley, CEO, Young Roots

James Wilson, Director, Detention Action

Bill Dennis, Voluntary Chair, Kirklees Multi-Agency Group

Shereen Cowley, LGBTQIA+ Asylum Seeker & Refugee Support Lead, Sahir House

Gail Heath, CEO, The Pankhurst Trust (inc Manchester Women’s Aid)

Peter Oluoch, Chief Officer, Humber Community Advice Services Ltd

Andrew Quinn, CEO, Father Hudson’s Care

Mandy Littlewood, Director, Refugees & Mentors CIC

Sabir Zazai, CEO, Scottish Refugee Council

Harriet Wistrich, Director, Centre for Women’s Justice

Beth Gardiner, CEO, Safe Passage International

Sobiya Din, Women’s Mental Health project Lead, WomenCentre Kirklees

Agnes Baziwe, CEO, Africa Advocacy Foundation

Phil Watson, Chair, Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle Justice & Peace Co-ordinating Council

Emma Ginn, Director, Medical Justice

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