Help us challenge the Government’s ‘segregation’ of asylum seekers

by Care4Calais

Help us challenge the Government’s ‘segregation’ of asylum seekers

by Care4Calais
Case Owner
A volunteer-run charity supporting refugees in the UK and France.
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Case Owner
A volunteer-run charity supporting refugees in the UK and France.
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Care4Calais is challenging the Government’s policy of warehousing asylum seekers at sites such as the former RAF base at Wethersfield on the grounds that the use of these institutional sites amounts to segregation.

Why are we doing this?

Asylum seekers have been accommodated at the former RAF base in Wethersfield since 12th July 2023. The base is ringed by security fences, and monitored with 24/7 surveillance by on-site security guards and CCTV. It is located 1.5 miles from the village of Wethersfield, and almost 12 miles from the nearest large town (Braintree). There is no pedestrian access nor is the site served by public transport.

It is clear - sites like former RAF Wethersfield (and the Bibby Stockholm) are de-facto prison camps.

Care4Calais has been supporting residents at the Wethersfield camp for months. Residents have consistently told our volunteers that living at the site feels like being imprisoned.

Our volunteers have been witnessing, first-hand, the impact the site is having on the wellbeing of residents. What we are seeing is, the longer people are accommodated at these sites, the more their mental health seriously deteriorates. 

The Government’s own suitability criteria makes it clear that no one who has survived torture or modern slavery should be accommodated at ex-military sites or on barges. In addition, those with serious mental health concerns are also considered unsuitable within the criteria. However, we have evidence that people with such ‘vulnerabilities’ are routinely sent to the Wethersfield base. When their accommodation on the site is challenged via legal action they are swiftly transferred. It is clear the Government has no effective screening process to assess individual’s suitability for these sites, and it should not be the job of charities and NGOs to triage people for the Government.

What are we challenging?

We are challenging the Government on two grounds:

1) The purported discharge of duties pursuant to sections 95 and 96 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the Asylum Support Regulations by the accommodation of asylum-seekers at the ex-MoD accommodation site at Wethersfield

Sections 95 and 96 of the Immigration and Asylum Act (IAA) 1999 place a duty on the Home Secretary to provide accommodation that ‘ensures a standard of living adequate for the health of the claimants and capable of ensuring their subsistence’. Sites like former RAF Wethersfield cannot be regarded as such.

Ringed by barbed wire fences, with a single entrance/exit which is guarded, and limited private hire bus provision, the physical confinement of residents at the Wethersfield base has stripped them of their liberty. We believe this amounts to detention and is out of the scope of the Home Secretary’s sections 95 and 96 obligations.

Furthermore, not only are the physical assets of the site prison-like (barbed wire fences, 24/7 security, etc), but the site is a significant distance from the British population, or any community hub, making it impossible for residents to take part in British society or even interact with a local community. All the residents of the site share the protected characteristic of being an asylum seeker, all of whom are from ethnic minority backgrounds and are non-UK nationals. It is on this basis that the Government has segregated them from the wider UK community. Again, the Home Secretary does not encompass the power to enact this type of segregation, by nationality, in fulfilling the statutory duties conveyed to her by Parliament through the IAA.

2) Failure to comply with the accommodation’s suitability criteria

From our work with asylum seekers sent to the Wethersfield camp, it is clear that the Government has failed to adopt an effective, lawful and rational policy for identifying those unsuitable for accommodation at Wethersfield.

The suitability criteria are clear. No one who has survived torture or modern slavery, or who has a serious mental health concern, should be accommodated at these ex-military bases or barges. However, we have a significant body of evidence that people who have experienced these ‘vulnerabilities’ are being routinely sent. The Home Secretary has therefore failed in her public duty to put in place an effective screening process for assessing residents to be moved to/accommodated at the base.

Is this challenge specifically about the former RAF base at Wethersfield or does it include sites such as the Bibby Stockholm barge?

This challenge is brought against the Government’s use of the former RAF Wethersfield base as asylum accommodation based on the body of evidence that Care4Calais has collected since July 2023. However, there are shared physical assets at sites such as RAF Scampton and the Bibby Stockholm barge, as well as the same suitability criteria for individuals accommodated on these sites. The success, or otherwise, of this challenge against Wethersfield should have legal implications for other similar sites.

Why us?

Care4Calais is a refugee charity that provides humanitarian aid to refugees in northern France and supports asylum seekers here in the UK. We have a group of 800 active volunteers and a supporter and donor base of 100,000.

At Wethersfield, our Field Operations volunteers are delivering on the ground aid by distributing welcome packs, clothing and other essential items to asylum seekers who are sent to the camp. Our Legal Access caseworkers are ensuring that asylum seekers are able to access justice by securing legal representation to challenge their suitability to be accommodated at the camp.

The Legal Team

We have instructed the Public Law Team at Duncan Lewis Solicitors which has an excellent track record of bringing complex judicial review claims that are of wider public importance. We have previously instructed them in a challenge to the Home Office’s ‘pushback’ policy, which resulted in the Home Office’s withdrawal of the policy, as well as our challenge to the Government’s Rwanda plan. The Duncan Lewis legal team are Toufique Hossain, Shalini Patel and Thomas Munns.

Duncan Lewis have instructed a formidable counsel team comprising: 

  • Alex Goodman KC, Landmark Chambers

  • Miranda Butler, Landmark Chambers

Why are your donations needed?

We are raising funds for our own legal costs, and to protect us from paying the Home Office’s legal fees if the case gets to court and we don’t win. Any unused funds will be allocated according to Crowd Justice’s Unused Funds policy.

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