The government has been severely criticised for a proposal to house up to 500 asylum seekers in “temporary buildings akin to an open prison” next to a small Hampshire village.
The plans, which would construct cabin-style accommodation on former Ministry of Defence land near Barton Stacey, close to the A303 trunk road, follow a series of damning reports on conditions at two former army barracks sites in Kent and Pembrokeshire being used to hold up to 600 asylum-seeking men.
Among the critics of the proposal is the Conservative leader of Test Valley council, Phil North, who said Barton Stacey was one of a number of sites being considered by the government. The Home Office would not reveal the locations of other sites.
North said: “I completely understand the argument about disincentivising dangerous Channel crossings facilitated by criminal gangs of people smugglers, but whether you think this country should house more asylum seekers or not, putting these individuals up in temporary buildings akin to an open prison is the wrong accommodation in the wrong location.
“Apart from some dining and basic recreation facilities, there will be absolutely nothing for them to do. There are few places I would consider less appropriate for a facility of this nature and it concerns me that this would even be considered.
“With no substantial facilities in the vicinity, occupants of the camp will almost certainly want to access the A303 road services on foot. This represents a significant highway danger in them walking on land adjacent to the road and in the carriageway itself.”
He added: “An influx of 500 young men in a village with an existing population of just 1,000 would have an overwhelmingly detrimental impact.”
The council leader, along with the MP for Romsey and Southampton North, Caroline Nokes, a former immigration minister, launched a petition against the proposal.
Napier barracks in Kent and Penally barracks in Pembrokeshire were handed over by the MoD to the Home Office in September to be used as accommodation for asylum seekers.
Since then, the Home Office has faced allegations of poor access to healthcare, denial of access to lawyers, overbearing use of confidentiality agreements and concerns over safety and privacy at the sites.
Stephen Hale, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “The way we currently treat people seeking asylum is becoming a stain on our national conscience.
“Herding vulnerable people behind barbed wire in a barracks or in a portable cabin in the middle of the countryside, when they desperately need access to health and legal support, is inhumane.
“The government must rediscover their compassion and common sense. People seeking asylum should be housed in our communities.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Given pressure on the system during these unprecedented times, we have worked tirelessly with local authorities and other partners to provide asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, with suitable accommodation – as we are required to do by law.
“Following a review of available government property, the MoD offered temporary use of some of its sites. This includes Barton Stacey and we are engaging with leaders and officials at Test Valley and Hampshire councils, local MPs, the police and health services, among others, as we continue to explore this as an option.”