UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his intent to use a military base in his North Yorkshire constituency for Afghan refugee accommodation.
On Friday, Sunak confirmed that the Home Office had deemed Catterick Garrison in Richmond unsuitable for a large asylum facility, following initial reports by The Times. However, the base might be repurposed to house Afghan refugees, in line with the UK’s commitments post-withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This development is part of the government’s broader strategy to reduce asylum housing costs by utilizing military sites, such as RAF Wethersfield in Essex and RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, along with the Bibby Stockholm barge.
During a visit to the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance headquarters, Sunak refuted claims of preferential treatment for his constituency. He emphasized that the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office conduct independent site inspections.
Sunak also highlighted his dedication to stopping illegal boat crossings as a means to alleviate pressure on hotels and local communities. The Prime Minister acknowledged the challenges faced, including issues at RAF Wethersfield and RAF Scampton, which have led the government to reconsider using disused military sites for asylum seekers.
Recent incidents, such as the death of an Albanian asylum seeker on the Bibby Stockholm and the discovery of hazardous bacteria, have raised concerns about these temporary accommodations.
The High Court recently declared the plans for RAF Wethersfield and RAF Scampton lawful, despite objections from district councils. West Lindsey District Council, however, plans to appeal the ruling concerning RAF Scampton.
Sunak avoided direct comments on the future of these sites, citing ongoing legal proceedings, but assured that site assessments are conducted objectively and with minimal local community impact.
He also pointed to the stalled £290 million Rwanda scheme as a solution to deter migrants from crossing the English Channel in small boats. The plan faces legal hurdles, but Sunak remains committed to establishing Rwanda as a ‘safe’ country through emergency legislation.