Asylum seekers stage 'hunger strike' at former RAF Wethersfield airbase

The former RAF Wethersfield
Credit: PA
Asylum seekers began to be moved into the base in July. Credit: PA

Asylum seekers being housed at a former RAF base have gone on hunger strike in protest at the "prison-like" conditions they are facing, say charities and locals.

Concern has been raised at the low quality of accommodation at the centre in Wethersfield in Essex, as well as the centre’s isolation and lack of transport to neighbouring towns.

Campaigners say barbed wire fences surround the site, while the food served to residents has been described as “cheap and nasty”.

This week residents at the site in Wethersfield in Essex staged a protest outside the main gate, while others have gone on hunger strike in a bid to force change. 

The Home Office said it did "not recognise the allegations being made".

The charity Care4Calais, which works on behalf the asylum seekers, said it had warned the choice of site was going to be "a disaster and that's now becoming a reality”.

Nick Godley, chairman of Wethersfield Parish Council, has visited the site twice and described it as “inadequate”.

“Prison cells tend to be better furnished than what I saw," he told ITV News Anglia. “The rooms that we saw were made up of a pair of bunk beds with single lockers. There was no mirrors, desks or chairs.

“To live there for six months or more would really not be good for anyone’s state of mind,” he added.

One of the accommodation blocks at the former airfield now home to asylum seekers. Credit: PA

During one of the visits, Mr Godley also ate a meal from the facilities on-site. 

“I was given a very small burger in a cheap, nasty roll served with a few oven chips and a salad made up of a couple bits of tomatoes and iceberg lettuce.

"From what I saw and what people have also told me, it is not very good.”

Wethersfield was announced as a site for asylum seekers in May with the first migrants moving into the site in July. There are currently 94 people being housed on the base.

The government argues that housing them in sites such as Wethersfield, instead of hotels, will save about £6m a day.

But opponents say the decision to use the base did not take into account the views of locals, who had argued that the population would triple as a result of the plan.

One of the bedrooms at RAF Wethersfield. Credit: PA

Charities claim the plans make no sense as there are no local amenities and facilities for the asylum seekers.  

A Care4Calais spokesperson reiterated the charity's call for people to be rehoused.

“The Home Office were warned that putting hundreds of asylum seekers in a former military base that is isolated from any sort of community was going to be a disaster and that's now becoming a reality.

“The government should close it down and suspend plans to use other similar sites before they have an even greater disaster on their hands."

In response, the Home office said facilities at the site were suitable.

"We do not recognise the allegations being made," said a spokesman.

“Despite the number of people arriving in the UK reaching record levels, we continue to provide accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute, to meet our legal obligation. 

“All residents have access to medical support, including mental health support, and the food provided meets NHS Eatwell standards, catering for all cultural and dietary requirements. To suggest otherwise is wrong.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know