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Home Secretary to visit villagers affected by asylum centre proposal

Aundrea Watson asks a question during the parish council meeting (Danny Lawson/PA)
Aundrea Watson asks a question during the parish council meeting (Danny Lawson/PA)

Home Secretary Priti Patel will go to Linton-on-Ouse to hear for herself locals’ concerns about a planned centre for 1,500 asylum seekers, according to Home Office officials who were told it is a village “in crisis”.

Senior civil servants from the department were questioned for two hours by residents at the village hall on Thursday evening following the decision to use a disused North Yorkshire RAF base as an accommodation centre.

One villager asked if the Home Secretary will be coming to hear for herself their concerns about security and the impact on local services.

Senior Home Office official Cheryl Avery told around 200 people in the room: “Yes. That is a part of our plan to make sure that she comes along and meets with everybody here, and you have an opportunity to speak to her at some point.

“We’re trying to work out with her office to get some time in her diary. But it is our intention for her to come along.”

Linton resident Aundrea Watson told the meeting nobody in government had “one iota what the impact is on our mental health and wellbeing”.

She said: “The villagers are in crisis, and I mean crisis right now.

“People are upset, people are leaving their homes because of the press and the protests that are already happening.

“What you’re not taking on board is the fact that 1,500 men of unknown origin are coming to our village of 600 adults.

“In proportion, that’s about 300 women to 1,500 men.”

Mrs Watson appeared on the verge of tears as she said: “I walk my dog and I have children, and many others do in the village. We don’t feel we are going to be able to do this.”

Ms Avery told the meeting: “Thank for sharing that sense of what the emotion is in the village. I understand where you are coming from with that.

“What we want to do is to understand the extent of that emotion. We want to start drop-in sessions and want to bring you on site to show you around.”

Mrs Watson said: “I don’t think you are grasping the concept of what you are doing to our community.”

Ms Avery confirmed during the meeting that 60 asylum seekers will be arriving at the site by the end of the month.

Local police commander chief inspector David Hunter said North Yorkshire Police will have a dedicated patrol in the village from that point, operating from 8.30pm to midnight every day.

Ms Avery said: “We’re not going to land 1,500 people on you in one go. That’s not our intention. We want to continue to work with you.”

Villager Aundrea Watson is comforted during the meeting
Villager Aundrea Watson is comforted during the meeting (Danny Lawson/PA)

She admitted that the Home Office was on the “back foot” in terms of communicating with the community but promised this would improve.

Ms Avery said: “We’re trying to change the asylum-seeking process and the journey that happens.

“We’re trying to reduce the time for people to go through the process, we’re trying to reduce the cost to the public purse.

“We’re trying to make it a much more efficient and effective process for all concerned. That is at the heart of what we’re trying to achieve here today.”

She said: “You have heard some of the numbers that have been shared around how much it costs each day, for you as tax payers in fact, to manage the system.

“That is not sustainable and it is not acceptable. Therefore, we have to bring in processes that change and improve that situation for everybody concerned.”

One resident said “we are effectively guinea pigs” and others said it was as a “fait accompli”.

Residents were told how the site would be managed by the firm Serco, who described how the “state-of-the-art” security regime would work.

However, officials confirmed that people housed on the base would be able to come and go at will.

All meals and other activities will be available on site and those housed there will have buses available to take them into the larger towns in the area, like York.

Earlier this week, Hambleton District Council says it has asked the Government to pause the controversial proposal “immediately”.

The authority has previously announced it was seeking a judicial review of the plans and says it has now appointed a legal team.

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