Arrival of asylum seekers in village sparks complaints and compassion
- Credit: Archant
The arrival of dozens of asylum seekers in a Norfolk village has led to calls to police, but also displays of generosity.
The Home Office began moving the first of more than 90 asylum seekers to Badersfield earlier this month after coronavirus meant their applications to stay in the UK were delayed.
But the move caught Broadland Council, police and neighbours by surprise, with no warning from the Home Office.
Currently 77 asylum seekers are living in the old Officers’ Mess on Jaguar Drive at the former RAF base and could be there for six months.
The council is also housing up to 20 homeless people in the same building, but said this was a “separate arrangement”.
It said did not know that the building was going to be used by the Home Office when it agreed to place homeless people there and was only told the day before they arrived.
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A council spokesman said it had received 30 complaints, while there have been five calls to police.
Liberal Democrat councillor Steve Riley, who lives near the site, said the lack of information from the Home Office had been “appalling” which had led to worry and speculation.
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On Monday one neighbour called officers after claiming a man staying at the site licked her hand.
The woman wrote on Facebook that a man was leaning over her fence and stroking her dog while video calling his family back home.
“I was polite and waving at his family,” she said.
She alleged that when the man left, he held his hand out to shake hers but when she did so, he pulled her hand to his face and “licked all over”.
Police said a man in his 40s was later arrested, cautioned for assault and moved to another immigration centre.
There have also been claims of people walking into gardens, begging and not following social distancing.
Retired police officer Nigel Fielding, 63, who lives on Barnby Road, said: “This is not about nimbyism, we’re just not prepared to put up with anti-social behaviour.”
Broadland MP Jerome Mayhew said he and North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker spoke to Superintendent Chris Harvey from Norfolk police on Tuesday afternoon about issues raised by residents.
He said police had told him they had received five calls about three incidents, which were urinating in public, damage to a fence and the allegation of a woman’s hand being licked.
Mr Mayhew said police now had two patrol cars dedicated to the area. There are also security guards on the site.
Addressing concerns about coronavirus, Mr Mayhew said: “All of the asylum seekers have been previously quarantined for 14 days. All of the asylum seekers have been briefed in their own language about the (social distancing) rules.”
He added: “The vast majority of the asylum seekers have been respectful and helpful.”
Mr Mayhew said last week that there was “a moral legal duty, to house those in need” and some residents have dropped off supplies at the accommodation.
Neighbours have delivered gifts including shoes, food, clothes and toiletries.
Sean Ismay, who runs the Costcutter, said some residents had been welcoming, but the reaction of others had been disappointing.
Mr Ismay said he had one issue with a man who had been begging outside his store, but added: “Lots of them have been in the shop and they have been absolutely fine.”
Another resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “The community is split between wanting to be good and friendly neighbours to a group of people who have been through some really difficult times, and not being happy with how we’ve been treated by the Home Office.
“The problems that have been happening in recent days are really worrying people.
“It’s a small village and it just feels like a really inappropriate place to drop a group of people in the middle of a community with so little information being given out to people.”
In a letter to residents sent on Monday, Broadland Council and police said there was a “pressing need” to urgently find accommodation across the country for asylum seekers and because it was an emergency the Home Office did not consult with the community.
The site is owned by a company registered in London called BM Trust Limited but is being managed by a firm called Cromwood Housing with Serco.
The letter said Serco was “highly experienced in this work” and would make sure “provisions and structures” were in place.
A police spokesman said they had received a “small number” of calls. “All reported incidents are reviewed and investigated as appropriate,” they said.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We have been in direct consultation with Norfolk County Council over recent weeks, as we do with all local authorities when identifying temporary asylum accommodation.
“Like the rest of the country, asylum seekers are being asked to stay home to help stop the spread of coronavirus, which has increased the amount of accommodation needed.”
Update 30.4.20: A letter from the Home Office, sent to all councils about housing asylum seekers, has cast doubt on the Home Office’s claim that it was in “direct consultation over recent weeks”.
The letter, sent at the end of March, does not mention using Badersfield as an immigration centre and is instead a generic one sent to all councils in the country. It states that because of the urgent situation to house asylum seekers, the Home Office is halting the usual requirement to get permission from councils. It does state that the Home Office will consult with councils once sites had been identified.
However in the case of Badersfield, local councils said they were not told in advance.
A county council spokesperson said: “When the team responsible for the welfare of any potential asylum seekers at the site were informed of its intended use, they started putting in place the best support structure to ensure people’s welfare was prioritised.”