Care4Calais is challenging the UK Government policy.
Refugee charity Care4Calais has launched a legal challenge against the Government’s policy of warehousing asylum seekers at sites such as the former RAF base at Wethersfield which the charity argues amounts to a form of “segregation”.
Asylum seekers have been accommodated at the site in Essex since July 12, with the base ringed by security fences, and monitored with 24/7 surveillance by on-site security guards and CCTV.
It is located 1.5 miles from the village of Wethersfield, and almost 12 miles from the nearest large town - Braintree, with no pedestrian access nor is the site served by public transport.
In a Pre-Action Protocol (PAP) letter issued by lawyers representing the charity, the Home Secretary is accused of failing to fulfil her obligation under sections 95 and 96 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to provide accommodation that ‘ensures a standard of living adequate for the health of the claimants and capable of ensuring their subsistence’ by accommodating asylum seekers at the former airfield in Wethersfield.
The PAP states that Wethersfield “cannot be rationally regarded” (as suitable accommodation) ... because “residents are physically confined to the camp by the fact that it is surrounded by barriers save for a single entrance/exit which is guarded. Residents are prohibited and prevented from leaving via that exit other than on one of the daily buses, which may not be possible.”
It states that “measures short of 24-hour physical confinement, where they substantively deprive a person of their liberty, may amount to detention at common law”, which is not within the scope of sections 95 and 96.
The Home Secretary is also accused of separating “asylum seekers, all or most of whom are non-British, and many of whom are also from ethnic minorities or non-white, from the wider UK population “... with the remoteness of the site, the barbed wire fences and 24/7 security making it ‘effectively impossible for residents to interact with the local community.”
Care4Calais has brought the challenge following testimonies from clients accommodated at RAF Wethersfield.
Residents, some of whom have been at Wethersfield for over three months, have consistently told Care4Calais volunteers that living at the site “feels like being imprisoned”.
The charity says that the grounds of segregation and quasi-detention would have implications for the Government’s use of other sites, such as the Bibby Stockholm and RAF Scampton.
A second ground in the legal challenge centres on the absence of an effective screening process for selecting asylum seekers to be accommodated at Wethersfield.
In the Government’s accommodation policy, the Home Secretary acknowledges that there is a high risk of physical and mental vulnerability amongst asylum seekers, making sites such as Wethersfield and the Bibby Stockholm unsuitable for many asylum seekers.
The suitability criteria for these sites are clear that the survivors of torture or modern slavery, or those who suffer from serious mental health concerns, should not be selected for them.
However, over the last three months, Care4Calais has gathered a significant body of evidence that shows asylum seekers who have experienced these ‘vulnerabilities’ are routinely being sent to Wethersfield.
When their accommodation is challenged through PAP letters, the government has been transferring them to hotels.
The government has been put on notice to respond to the PAP letter by November 7, before proceedings for a full Judicial Review are initiated.
Steve Smith, CEO of refugee charity Care4Calais, said: “What we are witnessing at sites such as Wethersfield, and indeed the Bibby Stockholm, is a form of segregation.
“Whilst under previous Governments, asylum seekers would have been integrated into UK communities through dispersal accommodation, this current Government has given up on any pretence of trying to integrate asylum seekers into UK society, by putting them in de-facto prison camps and barges.
“Falsely imprisoning asylum seekers behind barbed wire fences, placing them under 24/7 surveillance, restricting their liberty and separating them from any semblance of community, is now the chosen policy of this Government. We believe it is unlawful.
“We are putting the Government on notice. Stop imprisoning asylum seekers in camps and barges, close these sites of segregation and start tackling the real problems in the UK’s asylum system. If they don’t, we will see them in court.”
The Home Office was approached for comment.