Charity takes legal action over 'prison-like' asylum accommodation at Wethersfield

A police vehicle enters the asylum accommodation centre at MDP Wethersfield in Essex. Credit: PA
A police vehicle enters the asylum accommodation centre at MDP Wethersfield in Essex. Credit: PA

A charity has launched legal action against the Government's use of a former RAF airbase in Essex to house asylum seekers.

Care4Calais has described the site at Wethersfield as "prison-like" and is taking the case to the High Court to “literally safeguard people’s lives”.

The charity will argue the site does not meet legally required standards and that people housed there are effectively stripped of their liberty.

It will also argue a failure by the Home Office to comply with the accommodation’s suitability criteria.

This includes housing people at MDP Wethersfield who have been subjected to violence such as torture or rape.

The charity said it has a “significant body of evidence that people who have experienced these ‘vulnerabilities’ are being routinely sent”.

Nineteen emails, dated between September and November, regarding safeguarding concerns relating to residents at the former airbase have been included in the submission to the court, the charity said.

A bedroom at the asylum accommodation centre at MDP Wethersfield in Essex. Credit: PA

Home Secretary James Cleverly has previously spoken out about the site, which is situated in his Braintree constituency.

Before taking up his current role, he was critical when reports first surfaced that RAF Wethersfield could be used to accommodate asylum seekers.

Writing on Facebook, he said: “I highlighted the remote nature of the site, the limited transport infrastructure and narrow road network and that these factors would mean the site wasn’t appropriate for asylum accommodation”.

The legal action comes just days after an asylum seeker was found dead on the Bibby Stockholm barge, which is also being used as asylum accommodation, in Portland.

Steve Smith, chief executive of Care4Calais, said there is a “systematic disregard for their own (the Home Office’s) suitability criteria (suggesting) that the Government has no effective screening process for selecting asylum seekers for these sites, nor for monitoring residents’ ongoing wellbeing once housed there.

“Our staff and volunteers are doing all they can to support residents in challenging their accommodation but, when reports of suicidal intentions are left unanswered and, in the light of the death of an asylum seeker on the Bibby Stockholm earlier this week, it is obvious why our legal challenge is so important in bringing to an end this systemic, unlawful process. It will literally safeguard people’s lives.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We continue to meet our legal obligations and provide accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute.

“Accommodation offered to asylum seekers, on a no choice basis, meets our legal and contractual requirements and people are free to come and go.”