Today (30 March), during my first meeting with the Immigration Minister and officials at the Home Office regarding the proposed asylum accommodation centre at the Northeye site, I raised an initial set of my own questions and folded in those queries I had received from constituents and local stakeholders. I requested this meeting so I could find out details and report back to constituents.
I have now produced a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ , which you can find below, and which provides initial information about the proposal and the mitigation being proposed for residents.
What is being planned?
- The Home Office is working on proposals to turn the current site into suitable accommodation for asylum seekers in response to the pressures on the UK asylum system.
Where is the site?
- The site is to the west of Little Common, it was a former training centre and, prior to this, was a prison and formerly an RAF base.
Why do we need new UK asylum accommodation?
- The number of people making the illegal and dangerous journey across the channel by small boat has increased significantly over the past five years.
- In 2022, 45,755 people crossed the channel illegally, compared to 299 in 2018.
- Between 2018 and 2022, there were 76,134 asylum applications from people who arrived in small boats, accounting for 28% of all asylum applications during this period.
- At the end of 2022, there was a backlog of 166,261 asylum cases, including those awaiting an initial decision and ‘pending further review’.
- The number of people waiting for an asylum decision has increased by 408% since December 2017.
Is this accommodation definitely going ahead?
- The proposal for Northeye is, unlike the other three English sites, not yet finalised.
- As far as myself and my team are aware, Brockwell Group own the site. We were advised of this by the Home Office when we were dealing with a power outage on the Northeye estate.
- I understand that contracts for the sale of the property to the Home Office were exchanged on 28 March 2023. The Home Office advised that once the toxicology and environmental reports are completed and all is considered safe to continue, the purchase of the site will go through.
Will a planning application be made?
- I am led to believe that an application will not be made to Rother District Council. The Home Office will make an application direct to the Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing.
- Like any planning process, this will be subject to legal challenge should the process not be correctly followed or powers be used disproportionately or incorrectly. I have sought a commitment that Rother District Council be folded into discussions around the proposed planning process.
When will the accommodation centre be opened?
- It is expected that the earliest arrivals will not be until September 2023.
- It is expected that the arrivals will come in tranches as the site is developed.
Who will be housed at Northeye?
- I am told that only men will be housed in the accommodation; there will be no women and there will be no children.
- The expectation is that the first 400 asylum seekers will arrive in September and this will then be phased up by a further number with no greater than 1200 men being accommodated. Whether this number materialises will depend on how the site can be constructed.
- Countries from where the asylum seekers are fleeing are expected to include Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria in the main. A small number of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan are also expected. Current numbers show that Albanians are only comprising 1% of those arriving from small boats (and do not have the right to apply). I will expect those who are accommodated to be from those countries where a right of asylum is expected.
Will there be security, and will people be able to come and go as they please?
- Asylum seekers are not detained until such time that their application is processed and declined.
- I recognise that this is the aspect which causes concern but, legally, the Government is unable to detain asylum seekers.
- Security will cover the site 24 hours per day for every day of the year.
- Asylum seekers will be monitored to ensure it is known who has left the site.
- There is no set curfew but asylum seekers are expected to be back on site by 11pm, with those who do not return being contacted to ascertain whereabouts.
- I have asked for Sussex Police to be funded to ensure there are additional police numbers on the ground to provide reassurance to local residents as to safety and security.
What assurance can be given that asylum seekers will behave in and outside the centre?
- I am informed that 70% of asylum seekers from countries of the type expected in Northeye have their claims for asylum granted due to having a sound reason to flee their home country.
- Claims for asylum will be viewed negatively should any law-breaking or trouble occur during the applications stage.
- For this reason, past experience shows that behaviour has not been an issue and that 50% of claimants will not leave a centre and those who do will do so to exercise.
What will the impact be on local GPs, Schools and other services?
- As there are no children housed in the accommodation, there will be no impact on school places.
- A primary healthcare centre will be included within the site so I have been assured there will be no impact on local GPs.
- I am liaising with local service providers to ensure that resourcing from the Home Office is spread across those services which will be impacted. This immediately strikes me as a need for Sussex Police.
How long will asylum seekers remain on site?
- I am told that processing should take, on average, 6 months to complete.
- If the applicant is granted asylum then the expectation is that asylum seekers will move to other areas of the country.
- If the claim is turned down, the asylum seekers have to leave within 28 days and, at the point of being turned down, they will be removed from Northeye and put in a detained site.
What facilities will be on site?
- I have raised the concern that there will need to be sufficient facilities on site to ensure that asylum seekers have enough to do to remain on site.
- I am told that there will be sporting and leisure facilities, a shop, medical centre and faith centres. All meals will be provided on the site.
- I have flagged that to reduce the impact on local amenities, more provision is needed within this site.
- I have been invited to work with the Home Office team to ensure the correct amount of facilities are on the site.
Will asylum seekers be given transport for visits further afield?
- It is envisaged that organised transport, with chaperones, will be made available.
- I have asked that these transported trips are not to Bexhill, where there will already be an impact, but further west towards bigger towns and cities.
How will the community be resourced to mitigate the impact?
- This will undoubtedly have an impact on our local services and I have asked the Home Office for financial resources to cover the impact.
- The Home Office are going to direct financial resources based on the number of asylum seekers in accommodation. Given there will be no impact on our schools or GP practices, I have flagged that the key concern will be to reassure the public as to safety and security.
- I therefore expect Sussex Police to be given the resources from the Home Office to ensure there is enough visible policing on the ground to ensure good order remains outside of the accommodation centre.
- Security within the centre will be provided by the Home Office. There is also a need to ensure that the needs of our local authorities and hospitals are considered but I consider policing the number one priority at present.
Where will the other asylum seeker accommodation announced be located?
- In addition to the Northeye site, surplus military sites in Wethersfield in Essex, Scampton in Lincolnshire and Catterick in North Yorkshire.
- The Government is also continuing to explore the possibility of accommodating asylum seekers in vessels, as they are in Scotland and in the Netherlands.
How will you, as our MP, listen to our views and seek answers
- I recognise the enormity of this proposal for the community.
- I will ensure that I gain information and share it with constituents.
- The Immigration Minister agreed with me that residents will feel concerned and will need every ounce of information and reassurance to alleviate this concern.
- In the past, I have held public meetings on contentious issues and have discussed doing the same thing on this issue alongside Home Office officials.
- Given the amount of interest, this would need to be in a venue which would hold enough room. I have 100,000 constituents to represent, and only a small number of staff to assist me.
- I am therefore conscious that, in addition to the information I am posting on my website, a public meeting may be the best way to listen to concerns and engage with you.
When were you first aware of this proposal?
- I only found out about the plan two days before it was made public. Like many constituents, I had heard that it was being considered and attended meetings where I made my views known.
- I understand that the landowner was asking for too much money but, with very limited notice before the Home Office announced the list of sites, lowered demands and a deal was agreed.
- I was called up on the evening of Sunday 25 March and informed of what was about to occur.
What are the immediate next steps?
- With this being only a proposal, there are legal and site matters to be finalised and determined.
- During this time, I have asked the Home Office to ensure that the local population and local stakeholders are not only kept informed but will be involved in the decision-making.
- I have requested, and it has been agreed by the Home Office, that I will chair a meeting with all local stakeholders (so our local authorities, police and emergency services, NHS and other service providers) so we can ensure our voices are heard.