‘Guantánamo-on-Ouse’ plans to place 1,500 asylum seekers in Yorkshire village | Immigration and asylum

It has been described as Guantánamo-on-Ouse: a giant one-stop reception centre for asylum seekers due to open within weeks slap bang in the middle of a quiet, bucolic North Yorkshire village.

“When we first heard about it they said 500 people and we thought that’s just about manageable,” said 67-year-old Taff Morgan. “Then last night we heard 1,500 and that might not be the maximum. It depends on how many they can fit in.”

Morgan lives in Linton-on-Ouse and like most people in the village he is still digesting the enormity of the government’s New Plan for Immigration.

Most of the attention and controversy has been directed at the proposal to send people to Rwanda. Refugees not sent there will, the government said, go to a new reception centre at the former RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse where they will live while their claims are processed.

The base is not close to Linton, it’s part of Linton.

Taff Morgan
Taff Morgan, a former squadron leader and pilot trainer at the base. Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian

“People keep saying there are 1,200 people living in the village,” said Morgan, a former squadron leader and pilot trainer at the base. “That was when the quarters were fully occupied and it was a fully running military base. Now there’s only about 500 of us. They want to quadruple the population. It just won’t work.”

RAF Linton closed in 2020 and has a history locals are proud of.

“The Home Office has done more damage to this village in a week than the Germans did in six years of the war,” said Morgan.

Parish council meetings held in the village hall normally attract a handful of members of the public. On Thursday, there was standing room only as more than 120 residents crammed in to listen to a Home Office official give more details of the plan.

It would, residents were told, be predominantly adult single men single from Syria, Iran, Iraq and Eritrea being sent to Linton. They might have to live in Greek-style temporary containers. They could live there for up to six months. They will be free to come and go but will be expected back at the site by 10pm.

Villagers point out they don’t have the infrastructure to cope. There are four buses a day to York, 10 miles away. There’s one shop. The village pub closed a number of years ago.

“When we had the floods it meant a 52-mile round trip to Tesco’s in York to get some shopping,” said Morgan.

Refugee charities have called the planned centre a cross between a hostel and low-security prison. Darryl Smalley, a Lib Dem councillor on York council described it as a “Guantánamo-on-Ouse plan” and “an ill-thought-out, cruel and morally bankrupt ploy to reduce our obligations to the most desperate people”.

View of Linton-on-Ouse
Linton-on-Ouse has one shop and no pub. Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian

Villagers insist they are not being racist or nimby in objecting to the proposal. The new centre, they say, should not be in anyone’s backyard.

People at the meeting expressed fears that they would become “prisoners in their own home” because of the centre. “They say they’re going to give us CCTV,” said Morgan. “But we’ve never needed it. They say they’re going to give us extra police … but we’ve never needed it.”

The plan for the centre was announced, out of the blue, last week. The Home Office says the radical plan is needed because about 37,000 destitute migrants are being accommodated in hotels costing the taxpayer, it says, £4.7m a day.

Kevin Hollinrake, the local Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, initially suggested he was in favour of the plan. But he is now firmly against, pointing to the Home Office’s own guidance that says asylum seekers should be accommodated in urban areas with easy access to support and services.

The Home Office wants to open the centre within weeks but Hollinrake believes planning permission is needed. He said he would also support a judicial review of the plan.

Yvonne Cavanagh owns the village shop. She could not get in Thursday’s meeting so is waiting to hear further details of the plan at a meeting organised by Hollinrake for Saturday.

“I’ve not got an opinion yet,” she said. “They’ve pee-ed off a lot of people. The majority of the village are against it but I think we need to hear the facts first.”

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