The Home Office has today confirmed that it is withdrawing plans to house 200 asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood in Thurleigh, Bedfordshire.
A statement issued by the Home Office this afternoon (Tuesday) said: “Having given the matter careful consideration, the Home Office has decided not to proceed with plans to use the site adjacent to the existing Immigration Removal Centre for temporary accommodation for asylum seekers.
“As you are aware we worked at pace to stand up the site as part of our winter contingency planning to ensure we had sufficient capacity across the system to meet expected demand.
“It is now clear that we do not need to use the additional capacity at this location at this time.
“We continue to use our other additional temporary accommodation to ensure we continue to meet our statutory obligations whilst we work to get the asylum system back in balance.”
The controversial plans, which involved housing up to 200 asylum seekers in portakabin style temporary accommodation, were criticised by MPs, campaigners and local councillors, prompting a legal challenge against the Home Office.
Richard Fuller, MP for North East Bedfordshire, told the Bedford Independent that the site was only ever intended as an ‘overflow’ facility to use over the winter months.
As there have been fewer asylum seekers to process, there is no longer a need for the facility in Bedfordshire.
Thurleigh sits within Mr Fuller’s constituency and he had raised concerns over the security of the site.
Rosie Newbigging, who campaigned against the plans and crowdfunded the legal action, said, “We are waiting for confirmation that the awful proposals for a camp at Yarl’s Wood have been dropped.
“If they have, this is a victory for the community of people locally and nationally who believe that people seeking asylum deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity.
“It just goes to show that if you fight back, you might just win.”
“We are one world and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand what it must feel like to flee your country of origin, leave your loved ones and seek refuge.”
“I want to pay particular tribute to the legal team at Duncan Lewis for their absolute commitment and skill in working on this campaign.”
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston, said he was relieved and delighted that following repeated representations from himself and the Borough’s public health team, the Home Office has been forced to drop their plans.
“It was a terrible idea to house a vulnerable group of people in hostile, inappropriate and unsafe accommodation in the middle of a pandemic.
“Many thanks to the other MPs, Councillors and campaigners that spoke out against this and the other inappropriate sites in Kent and Wales.”
He said that the Home Office has questions to answer about why, for months, they ignored the legitimate concerns of local MPs and Councillors on a number of issues including public health concerns over Covid outbreaks and the impact on local services.
“Using military barracks and camps in remote locations to accommodate asylum seekers, many of whom have survived torture and other forms of persecution before fleeing their home countries is a new low for the Home Office and I will be pushing for an explanation for this dramatic change in policy which is straight out of the Trump playbook.”
Cllr Louise Jackson, Bedford Borough Council’s public health portfolio holder, opposed the plans and felt the accommodation risked a significant Covid outbreak, as seen at a similar facility in Folkestone, Kent.
She said: “While the home office do have a duty to accommodate asylum seekers, they must ensure that what they provide is safe.
“These plans risked a significant Covid outbreak and, in my view, would not have provided safe accommodation.
“I am very pleased that the Home office have withdrawn their plans for this site and sincerely hope that they won’t try to replicate something similar elsewhere.”
Last week, over 70 faith and community leaders wrote an open letter to the Home Office expressing their concerns over the plan.
The Revd Luke Larner, assistant curate at St Paul’s Church in Bedford said, “We are pleased to hear that alternative plans are being made, and look forward to working with the Home Office and other agencies in order to support these people and offer a warm welcome in our communities.”
Cllr Henry Vann, welcomed the news.
He said, “I was involved in campaigns against the detention of children in Yarl’s Wood more than a decade ago, alongside campaigners from all parties, and it is imperative that the Home Office learns its lesson and ends the harmful hostile environment and the mistreatment of asylum seekers, wherever they are accommodated; I would urge other local authorities to be vigilant against inappropriate and unsuitable accommodation that puts asylum seekers and local communities at risk, but welcome today’s decision.”
“A radical overhaul of the asylum system is needed, an end to the hostile environment and kindness and humanity must prevail,” said Rosie Newbigging.
This is a breaking news story and more detail and comment will be added throughout the afternoon.