‘Guantanamo-on-Ouse’ plans to place 1,500 asylum seekers in Yorkshire village | Immigration and asylum

It has been described as Guantánamo-on-Ouse: a giant one-stop reception center for asylum seekers due to open in a few weeks in the middle of a quiet, bucolic North Yorkshire village.

“When we first heard about it, they said 500 people and we thought that was about manageable,” said Taff Morgan, 67. “Then last night we heard 1,500 and that might not be the maximum. It depends on how many people they can accommodate.

Morgan lives in Linton-on-Ouse and, like most people in the village, he is still digesting the enormity of the government’s new immigration plan.

Most of the attention and controversy has been directed towards the proposal to send people to Rwanda. Refugees who are not sent there will, according to the government, go to a new reception center at the former RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse where they will live while their applications are processed.

The base is not near Linton, it is part of Linton.

Taff Morgan, former squadron leader and pilot trainer at the base. Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian

“People keep saying there are 1,200 people living in the village,” said Morgan, a former squadron leader and pilot trainer at the base. “That was when the neighborhoods were fully occupied and it was a fully operational military base. Now we’re only around 500. They want to quadruple the population. It just won’t work.

RAF Linton closed in 2020 and has a history the locals are proud of.

“The Home Office caused more damage to this village in one week than the Germans did in six years of war,” Morgan said.

Parish council meetings held in the village hall normally attract a handful of members of the public. There was standing room only on Thursday as more than 120 residents packed in to listen to a Home Office official elaborate on the plan.

According to locals, these were mostly single adult men from Syria, Iran, Iraq and Eritrea sent to Linton. They may have to live in temporary Greek-style containers. They could live there for up to six months. They will be free to come and go but will be expected on site at 10 p.m.

Villagers point out that they do not have the infrastructure to cope. There are four buses a day to York, 10 miles away. There is a shop. The village pub closed a few years ago.

“When we had the flooding it meant a 52 mile round trip to Tesco in York for shopping,” Morgan said.

Refugee charities have called the planned center a cross between a hostel and a low-security prison. Darryl Smalley, a Liberal Democrat adviser to York Council described it as a “Guantánamo-on-Ouse plan” and “an ill-thought-out, cruel, and morally bankrupt ploy to lessen our obligations to the most desperate people”.

View from Linton-on-Ouse
Linton-on-Ouse has a shop and no pub. Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian

The villagers insist they are not being racist or crafty in opposing the proposal. The new center, they say, should not be in anyone’s backyard.

Those present at the meeting expressed their fear of becoming “prisoners in their own house” because of the centre. “They say they’re going to give us CCTV,” Morgan said. “But we never needed it. They say they are going to give us extra police… but we never needed them.

The plan for the center was announced, out of the blue, last week. The Home Office says the sweeping plan is needed because around 37,000 destitute migrants are staying in hotels which it says are costing taxpayers £4.7million a day.

Kevin Hollinrake, the local Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, initially suggested he was in favor of the plan. But he is now firmly against it, pointing to the Home Office’s own guidelines that asylum seekers should be accommodated in urban areas with easy access to support and services.

The Home Office wants to open the center in a few weeks, but Hollinrake believes planning permission is required. He said he would also support a judicial review of the plan.

Yvonne Cavanagh owns the village store. She was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, so she is waiting to hear more details about the plan at a meeting hosted by Hollinrake on Saturday.

“I don’t have an opinion yet,” she said. “They peed on a lot of people. The majority of the village is against it, but I think we need to hear the facts first.

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