Linton on Ouse: Home Office insists it is 'minimising impact' of new asylum centre on villagers

The Home Office last night insisted it is “minimising impact on the local community” as it presses ahead to open its controversial new asylum centre near York at the end of this month, after government officials were jeered  at a public meeting which saw Linton-on-Ouse villagers accuse them of “treating us like collateral damage”.

Details about the planned asylum centre which could hold up to 1,500 lone men had been scant since it was announced last month, with Home Office officials consistently refusing to publicly respond in detail to concerns about the security of both those living in the village and in the new centre.

On Thursday officials were met with boos and chants of “wrong plan, wrong place,” as they sought to reassure villagers that the plans were safe.

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The asylum processing centre will open to 60 men on May 31, and despite a legal challenge from Hambleton District Council looming, local MP Kevin Hollinrake said villagers must assume the opening will go ahead.

Yesterday a 26-page document from the Home Office was circulated among villagers. It said it was working with Serco, who will run the site, and North Yorkshire Police to “develop detailed processes and procedures to cover a range of scenarios” which could lead to security risks, but would not confirm if those plans will be ready for May 31.

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Linton On Ouse asylum centre: Home Office officials jeered at village meeting as...

In response to a question on crime risk, it said those at the centre will have undergone biometric testing before they arrive, and that asylum seekers living in other parts of the UK have enjoyed “good relationships with their communities.”

The Yorkshire Post questioned the Home Office on how it will respond to villagers’ concerns expressed at the meeting, which saw some residents in tears as they spoke of falling house prices and safety concerns.

Details about the planned asylum centre which could hold up to 1,500 lone men had been scant since it was announced last month, with Home Office officials consistently refusing to publicly respond in detail to concerns about the security of both those living in the village and in the new centre.

A spokesperson said: “The Home Office is listening carefully to feedback and is committed to widening engagement with key local stakeholders to ensure we minimise impact on the community and services, and the site is being designed to be as self-sufficient as possible”

But only basic health-care will be available at the site, with the Home Office admitting it has not determined who will offer long term health and dentistry care.

Asylum seekers staying at the centre will be free to come and go, with minibuses being put on to take them to York. Home Office officials said the facilities available will “minimise the need to leave the site”.

North Yorkshire Police said it plans to staff the village with two officers every day from 8.30am until midnight.

Questions were also asked about how asylum seekers will be protected if tensions arise between men coming from warring states or those with different religious backgrounds, to which the Home Office said Serco had extensive experience managing asylum accommodation and staff will be trained in de-escalation.

But job adverts for staff, including that of risk manager at the centre, seen by The Yorkshire Post, require no specialist knowledge or qualifications in working with vulnerable people..

Villagers in Linton-on-Ouse have been warned by Kevin Hollinrake that the planned opening will go ahead - but plans for a legal challenge are still ongoing.

Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, has implored the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to reconsider plans to open the centre at the disused RAF base in the village near York, which could house up to 1500 men.

With just ten days to go until it opens, he told The Yorkshire Post that he must assume the Home Office will press on with plans, despite opposition from villagers who have accused the government of “treating us like collateral damage.”

Mr Hollinrake said: “We must assume they’re going to push ahead with it, but the fight won’t stop there.

“Every incident, every event that happens that we can point to that’s going to support our case, we will use.”

Mr Hollinrake, who has secured a Parliamentary debate on Tuesday evening on the plans, said he knew residents were concerned about the “stonewalling” of the Home Office to their questions.

“People deserves answers,” he said. “But there’s no sign yet that the Home Office are going to think again. I think it will take a legal challenge to force that.”

Hambleton District Council are in talks about the nature of a legal challenge, which could take the form of a judicial review, and said they have not received a planning permission request from the Home Office for the site.

Residents reacted with anger after a meeting in the village on Thursday night saw Home Office officials, sent to the community to offer reassurance, roundly booed and jeered by over 100 protestors.

Olga Matthias, of the Linton Action Group, said: “No one felt reassured after Thursday’s meeting. If anything, the vagueness to responses, the contradictions and the patronising tone all meant the disappointment and disbelief was stronger after listening to Home Office officials than before. We are exploring every possible avenue open to us.”

“Despite Home Office claims that they are trying to build trust, their continued actions and refusal to listen suggest otherwise. “

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The new asylum reception centre at Linton-on-Ouse will help end our reliance on hotels which are costing the taxpayer almost £5million a day.

“The Home Office is listening carefully to feedback and is committed to widening engagement with key local stakeholders to ensure we minimize impact on the community and services.

“Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the UK’s broken asylum system, allowing us to support those in genuine need while preventing abuse of the system and deterring illegal entry to the UK.”