Asylum seekers housed at ex-RAF base tried to kill themselves, study says | Immigration and asylum

Asylum seekers housed in the UK’s largest mass accommodation site have attempted to kill themselves and set themselves on fire because of conditions “no different from Libya”, according to a report.

The controversial Wethersfield site, on a remote military airbase near Braintree in Essex, is in the constituency of the home secretary, James Cleverly, who said earlier this year in a social media post that the site was not “appropriate”.

The report by the Helen Bamber Foundation and the Humans for Rights Network calls for the site to be closed down immediately and is the first iin-depth study of the impact of life in Wethersfield. The report described the site as a large “open-prison camp” that had caused irreparable and profound harm to residents in the five months since it opened.

Based on 10 detailed assessments and 140 case studies, the report found the men housed on the site were suffering from a range of problems including low mood, loneliness, flashbacks, reduced appetite, weight loss, feelings of despair and difficulty sleeping, and a worsening in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. When one man shared his suicidal thoughts with members of staff at the site he was simply told it was “normal in this environment”.

One man who passed through Libya after fleeing his country, said:“The hardest part for me after what I have been through in Libya, is what I am going through now in Wethersfield. When someone wakes up screaming I don’t know what to do. I came through Libya, this place is no different.”

By the end of October 2023, 508 men had been placed in Wethersfield – of whom 29% were from Afghanistan, 20% from Iran and 16% from Eritrea. Many are survivors of torture and trafficking and have severe mental health problems. In the first three months of Wethersfield being open, a quarter of residents were moved out because they did not meet the camp’s “suitability criteria” and had unlawfully been placed there. At least 11 children wrongly assessed to be adults have been identified in the camp.

Concerns about the site have been raised by the refugee charity Care4Calais, which has issued proceedings in the high court challenging the use of Wethersfield as accommodation for asylum seekers and providing evidence of safeguarding concerns, including cases of suicidal intentions.

One of the grounds in the legal challenge is the government’s lack of an effective screening process for selecting individuals to be accommodated at the base.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The welfare of individuals at the site is of the utmost priority. All residents have access to medical support, including mental health support, and the food provided meets NHS Eatwell standards, catering for all cultural and dietary requirements. A 24/7 helpline provided by Migrant Help is available to raise any concerns.”


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