UK: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak‘s plans to house Channel migrants in disused holiday camps and empty university halls of residence have provoked a backlash from MPs across the political divide.
The proposals, which it is claimed would save £5.6 million a day compared to paying out on hotel accommodation, are expected to include homing migrants in around half a dozen Pontins holiday parks across England from January, once negotiations over the lengths of leases have been concluded.
Reports also suggest that ministers want to use empty university halls of residence and are looking at the RAF site in Manston in Kent as potential “long-term” solutions to the crisis, rather than allocating rooms in hotels to those entering the country.
According to the Prime Minister, the government has already identified sites that could accommodate up to 10,000 asylum seekers as it grapples with the ongoing crisis.
Any such moves would be considered divisive, considering that homeless people and refugees from Ukraine have already been moved from hotels to separate accommodation to provide lodging for asylum seekers, including in Richmond, North Yorkshire – Sunak’s own constituency.
Last week, the Prime Minister announced a five-point plan to halt Channel crossings and address the backlog of asylum claims approaching 40,000, saying that “enough was enough” following a number of incidents.
The day after the announcement, four people died and more than 40 asylum seekers were saved by authorities after their inflatable dinghy sank in the Channel.
Many Tory MPs have already voiced their opposition to the use of hotels as accommodation for migrants in their constituencies, with one government minister telling The Times that student accommodation and disused holiday camps were not going to “attract the same level of criticism”.
However, criticism is growing among MPs that the proposals to use holiday camps and other forms of accommodation besides hotels would harm the health of the migrants themselves, as well as harm regional economies.
Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live show, Labour MP Clive Lewis compared the government’s plan to house migrants in holiday parks to holding them in “concentration camps in the Boer War”, in which thousands died.
Meanwhile, former Cabinet minister and MP for Haltemprice and Howden in Yorkshire, David Davis, warned that proposals to buy and convert student accommodation at the University of Hull into lodging for 1,000 asylum seekers would cost up to £6 million and put migrants’ health at risk. The buildings, which are listed, would only be able to accommodate people in single rooms as a result.
Southport MP Damien Moore said that plans to house 1,000 asylum seekers in a Pontins holiday camp in the village of Ainsdale would increase the pressure on local services and have a sizeable impact on an area where 40 per cent of the local economy is built on tourism. Instead, he urged ministers to prioritise low-occupancy government buildings, military sites and repurposed Nightingale-style hospitals as possible lodging solutions.
Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, also revealed that the Home Office has been in negotiations to rent out an 820-chalet holiday camp at Camber Sands in her constituency.