UK to house thousands of asylum seekers in ex-military bases

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s government said Wednesday it was planning to house thousands of asylum seekers in two disused military bases, the latest in a series of measures to discourage migrants from crossing the English Channel to U.K. shores in small unseaworthy boats.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the former Royal Air Force barracks in England will provide “basic and functional accommodation” for up to 3,700 asylum seekers and save the government billions of pounds (dollars) a year housing them in expensive hotels.

“Accommodation for migrants should meet their essential living needs and nothing more. Because we cannot risk becoming a magnet for the millions of people who are displaced and seeking better economic prospects,” Jenrick said.

Authorities say taxpayers are footing a 2.3 billion-pound ($2.8 billion) hotel bill a year to house asylum seekers, who often remain in temporary accommodation for months as they wait for a decision from officials struggling to cope with a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases.

The use of hotels to accommodate migrants has sparked heated debate and sometimes violent protests across the U.K. In February, a hotel that housed asylum seekers in the seaside town of Newquay, in southwest England’s Cornwall, drew hundreds of protesters who clashed over opposing views on the issue.

Charities criticized the government’s latest plans as unsuitable for vulnerable people fleeing war.

“We must ensure that people fleeing war, conflict and persecution can access safe, dignified, and appropriate accommodation while in the U.K. asylum system,” said Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council.

More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain by boat from northern France in 2022, up from 28,000 in 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government is determined to crack down on the arrivals. Authorities are pushing forward with a controversial migration bill that would bar asylum claims by anyone who reaches the U.K. by unauthorized means and deport migrants back home or to a safe third country.

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