Accommodation for asylum seekers at former RAF base 'unsuitable', says MP
- Credit: Archant
A former officer's mess in north Norfolk where almost 100 asylum seekers have been housed for eight months has been branded "unsuitable" by an MP.
The Home Office began using the old Officers’ Mess at the former RAF Coltishall base in Badersfield to house 90 asylum seekers during the coronavirus crisis.
But the MP for Broadland, Jerome Mayhew, has said the centre on Jaguar Drive is "unsuitable" for anything other than a short-term emergency stopgap as migrants inside complained about its location.
One asylum seeker, who did not want to be named, said: "We have been here for eight months and we are really suffering because we don't have any kind of help and no-one can hear our voice.
"Every time we ask for help they say 'we don't know, we don't know' so we have been on hunger strike for six days. We are going to continue with this until we see a solution.
"This is not the place to stay, we have to be able to go out. Even if we wanted to [go out] where can we go? It costs £7 to go into the city and we have no help."
The building, on Jaguar Drive, was left derelict for 15 years before refurbishment on the Grade II-listed building began in May 2019.
Asylum seekers were moved into the former officer's mess in April by the Home Office “to help in the fight against coronavirus”.
The move caught Broadland Council, police and neighbours by surprise, with no warning from the Home Office.
Broadland MP Jerome Mayhew said: "The rural location of the asylum centre in the Jaguar Buildings is widely recognised as being unsuitable for anything other than a short-term emergency stopgap to keep asylum seekers off the streets during the Covid pandemic.
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"I will continue to press this point with the minister responsible to build on assurances that I have received that the Home Office intends to close the centre and move the residents into more suitable accommodation that is closer to the amenities they require as soon as the Covid crisis has passed.”
After hearing some of the migrants were on hunger strike, a group of people from the nearby village of Coltishall stood outside the gates of the building to "show support" to the asylum seekers inside.
One woman, who attended the show of support, said: "This [a hunger strike] has been brought to my attention and we decided to show support for the asylum seekers inside Jaguar House.
"They haven't received any communication about their cases moving forward in eight months, leading them to feel even more isolated and desperate. They deserve to be treated like human beings."
Norfolk Police were called to the scene and a spokesperson said: "We were called at 1pm on Friday, January 1 to reports of a protest in Jaguar Drive in Coltishall. On arrival, the group had already dispersed."
A Home Office spokesman said it does not comment on individual cases, but in response to the complaints from asylum seekers and show of support from villagers, said: "As required by law, we provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with accommodation, paid for by the taxpayer.
"During the pandemic, the Home Office has acted quickly to source contingency accommodation to create additional capacity to ensure that our obligations can be met in full.
“We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers extremely seriously and those at Coltishall are staying in safe, Covid-compliant conditions, in line with the law and social distancing requirements.
"They have access to appropriate health care and to Migrant Help, who can provide information about access to legal services.
"We are working to streamline cases and have already made significant progress in prioritising cases with acute vulnerability, those in receipt of the greatest level of support including, UASCs ,and those that require a reconsideration.
"There are a number of factors that contribute to the length of time to process and asylum claim but we are determined to clear the backlog to help speed up decisions and prevent people becoming stuck in the system for long periods of time."