It has been described as Guantánamo-on-Ouse: a giant one-stop reception center for asylum seekers to open within weeks, slam bang in the middle of a quiet, rural village in North Yorkshire.
“When we first heard about it, they said 500 people and we thought it was almost manageable,” said 67-year-old Taff Morgan. “So last night we heard 1,500, and that may not have been the maximum. It depends on how many they can fit.”
Morgan lives in Linton-on-Ouse and like most people in the village, he still digests the scope of the government’s new immigration plan.
Most of the attention and controversy has been directed at the proposal to send people to Rwanda. Refugees who are not sent there will, the government said, go to a new reception center at the former RAF base in Linton-on-Ouse, where they will stay while their claims are processed.
The base is not close to Linton, it is part of Linton.
“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 neighborhood was fully occupied and it was a fully running military base. Now we are only about 500 of us. They want to quadruple the population. It just will not work. ”
RAF Linton closed in 2020 and has a history that locals are proud of.
“The Interior Ministry has done more damage to this village in one week than the Germans did in six years of the war,” Morgan said.
Parish council meetings held in the Assembly House usually attract a handful of members of the public. On Thursday, there was only standing room as more than 120 residents had crammed in to listen to an Interior Ministry official provide more details about the plan.
It would, residents were told, be predominantly adult single men singles from Syria, Iran, Iraq and Eritrea sent to Linton. They may have to live in temporary Greek-style containers. They could live there for up to six months. They will be free to come and go, but are expected back on site at 22.00.
Villagers point out that they do not have the infrastructure to cope. There are four buses a day to York, 16 miles away. There is one store. The village pub closed some years ago.
“When we had the floods, it meant a 52-mile round trip to Tesco’s in York to shop,” Morgan said.
Refugee charities have called the planned center a crossroads between a hostel and a low-security prison. Darryl Smalley, a Lib Dem councilor in York Council described it as a “Guantánamo-on-Ouse plan” and “an ill-conceived, cruel and moral bankruptcy trick to reduce our obligations to the most desperate people”.
Villagers insist they are not racist or zealous when protesting against the proposal. The new center, they say, should not be in anyone’s backyard.
People at the meeting expressed fears that they would become “prisoners in their own homes” because of the center. “They say they want to give us CCTV,” Morgan said. “But we never needed it. They say they want to give us extra police… but we never needed it.”
The plan for the center was announced, out of the blue, last week. The Interior Ministry says the radical plan is necessary because around 37,000 needy migrants are being accommodated in hotels that cost taxpayers, it says, £ 4.7 million.
Kevin Hollinrake, the local Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, initially suggested he was for the plan. But he is now strongly opposed, pointing to the Interior Ministry’s own guidelines, which say that asylum seekers should be accommodated in urban areas with easy access to support and services.
The Interior Ministry wants to open the center within a few weeks, but Hollinrake believes a building permit is needed. He said he would also support a judicial review of the plan.
Yvonne Cavanagh owns the village shop. She was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting, so she is waiting to hear further details about the plan at a meeting hosted by Hollinrake on Saturday.
“I have not got an opinion yet,” she said. “They have peed on a lot of people. Most of the village is against it, but I think we need to hear the facts first. “