Home Office Is Planning To Build Asylum Accommodation Centres For 8,000 People
The Home Office has been accused of "warehousing people" after initiating plans to construct new purpose-built accommodation sites across the UK, capable of housing up to 8,000 asylum seekers.
In line with home secretary Priti Patel’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, the department is actively seeking contractors to design, build or renovate large-scale reception centres that can accommodate and support asylum seekers for up to six months while their claims are processed.
The “national portfolio” of centres has been described by one refugee charity as having the potential to be “hugely harmful to vulnerable and often traumatised people”.
A budget for the new sites is yet to be disclosed and specific locations for construction have not been announced.
The Home Office told PoliticsHome it cannot comment on ongoing commercial discussions.
However, government documents detail the sites should “provide associated support services that include but are not limited to healthcare, safeguarding and education”.
The Home Office currently contracts three private companies – Serco, Mears and Clearsprings Ready Homes – to provide short-term accommodation to asylum seekers.
The companies manage small ‘dispersal’ sites across the UK, with the largest and only current mass accommodation centre being Napier Barracks in Kent, which houses up to 431 people.
Last year Clearsprings Ready Homes, who operate the old army barracks site, made a £796,000 profit on sales of £68 million that predominantly came from the Home Office.
Hotels have also controversially been used to house asylum seekers, however the Home Office says this practice will end as the new purpose-built centres are built.
Responding to news that the Home Office has kickstarted the process of building mass accommodation centres, Paul Hook, Director at the charity Asylum Matters, told PoliticsHome: "We know that warehousing people in this type of accommodation is hugely harmful to vulnerable and often traumatised people.
"Instead of embarking on plans that will damage individuals' wellbeing by commissioning costly building contracts, ministers should listen to the feedback to their own consultation on their anti-refugee bill, which showed strong public opposition to these proposals.
"The Home Office must scrap these plans and commit to housing people in local communities where they can rebuild their lives."
Alongside seeking contractors to build new reception centres, PoliticsHome can reveal the Home Office intends to spend £1 million on mental health and wellbeing support for individuals awaiting a substantive decision on their asylum claims.
Funding will be made available to local authorities, strategic migration partnerships and civil society organisations, to deliver “culturally competent” support to vulnerable adult asylum seekers and individuals experiencing distress.
Minimum contract awards of £10,000 will be granted during 2021-22 financial year and will require spending by the end of March 2022.
News of new funding for asylum seeker mental health and wellbeing comes as 46 charities have called on Patel to launch an independent inquiry into deaths in the UK asylum system.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Our asylum system is broken and being exploited by criminal gangs who facilitate dangerous, unnecessary and illegal small boat crossings.
“The New Plan for Immigration is the only credible long-term plan to fix the broken system and bring this exploitation to an end. Asylum reception centres will ensure that asylum seekers can be provided with basic, safe and secure accommodation while their claims are processed.”
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