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Up in arms

LINTON-ON-OUSE, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – The village of Linton-on-Ouse is usually a sleepy place, but its residents are up in arms at a United Kingdom (UK) government plan to house up to 1,500 asylum seekers, whose numbers will dwarf local residents.

In mid-April, 43-year-old Steve said he was walking his dog in the village in North Yorkshire when he learnt of the proposal from visiting reporters.

They “asked what I thought of what was going on” Steve told AFP.

It was then he found out that ministers want to open a centre for male asylum seekers in the heart of the village, in northern England.

The project is based on a similar one in Greece, which has seen a wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea land on its islands.

It aims to help reduce the number of migrants crossing the Channel from northern France in small boats, which soared to record highs in recent years despite government promises to tackle the issue post-Brexit.

According to the Interior Ministry the existing accommodation on a former Royal Air Force base which closed in 2020 “will help end the government’s reliance on expensive hotels” where tens of thousands of asylum seekers live at a cost to taxpayers of GBP4.7 million (USD5.8 million) per day.

“Some 1,500 people in a village of 700 seems to have an absence of proportionality,” argued Olga Matthias, another local.

ABOVE & BELOW: Photos show the village of Linton-on-Ouse, near York in northern England. PHOTOS: AFP

A man leaves Linton Stores, the only shop in the village of Linton-on-Ouse

‘LOSE-LOSE’

While they said they back the idea of housing refugees in their village, Steve and Olga said they cannot understand why the Home Office chose to send such a large number to Linton-on-Ouse.

“There is nothing to do here,” said Matthias, glancing down the deserted street with immaculate front gardens.

The only shop does not sell much except newspapers.

There is a bus four times a day that goes to York, the nearest large city about 16 kilometres away, but the price of a return ticket at GBP6.50 is over an asylum seeker’s daily allowance  of GBP5.66.

“It’s a lose-lose scenario,” said Steve. “They have a right for a peaceful life especially after the countries these people are coming from, so they have the right to be here.”

He argued the village does not have the facilities to allow its population to more than triple.

The sewage system is already failing, there is no high-speed Internet nor police presence, he listed.

One local, 19-year-old Mya Aston, said for her, the prospect of 1,500 more men walking in the streets of Linton-on-Ouse was “daunting”.

Another voiced concerns about how the plan might affect home prices, where the average detached house sells for nearly GBP350,000 (USD435,000).

Furious at not being consulted, the villagers are now fighting to halt the project, even as the first asylum seekers are set to arrive.

The local Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake, said he is considering legal options.

‘NOBODY WANTS THIS’

“Nobody wants this. Nobody. Not the far-rights, not the villagers, not refugee charities, only the Home Office wants this to happen,” said Nicola David of Ripon City of Sanctuary, a group helping refugees.

The public debate has been dominated in recent weeks by a government proposal to send asylum seekers who arrive illegally to Rwanda.

But David argued that the opening of a reception centre in Linton-on-Ouse is far more problematic.

“The Rwanda (plan) was really shocking cause it’s massive and it’s bizarre. But the Refugee Council did some calculations and they reckon probably 200 people would get sent to Rwanda so that’s actually quite small and there is a very strong chance it won’t go ahead at all,” said David.

In the case of Linton-on-Ouse, “this is happening right now and it’s happening right here”, said David, worried about the condition of planned accommodation, while the government has been vague about how the site will be managed.

She gave the example of Napier former military camp in Kent near the Channel coast, which has been used since 2020 to house asylum seekers, prompting criticism of the authorities over the squalid living conditions and migrants being held in semi-detention. “They’re constantly apologising and they’re constantly (holding) public inquiries that cost a fortune.

Now they think they can run (a centre) for 1,500 people here?” David questioned.

“What assurance does anybody have that it’s not all going to go horribly wrong?,” she asked.

“And then what happens when it does?”

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