MIGRANTS DOUBLE LOCAL POPULATION AT BEAUTY SPOT; ASYLUM: VILLAGE INVADED
May 12, 2002
By Alison Gordon and Keith Perry SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 1 4 LENGTH: 813 words AN immigration row erupted last night over plans to swamp a tranquil medieval village with 750 asylum seekers. The refugees are set to move into a proposed new centre in High Ercall, Shropshire, where they will virtually double the population. Local campaigner Dave Nicklin said: “I don’t think our tiny community can cope with this.” The village dates back to the 11th century, when its beautiful Norman church, dedicated to Edward the Confessor, was built. Its other charming old buildings include the Toll House, the smithy and the Mill House, which have all been converted into homes. The new asylum centre is set to include a swimming pool, mosque, supermarket and post office. High Ercall now has only one tiny shop – which doubles as a post office – a primary school and a solitary pub. The decision has caused uproar among local people. Mr Nicklin has collected more than 300 signatures from residents who oppose the planned complex, which is set to be built on a former RAF base. Residents are concerned that their homes will plummet in value. They also fear a repetition of the mass breakout at the privately-run GBP 100million Yarl’s Wood detention centre in February, the largest asylum-seekers’ holding site in Europe. There are only two other similar centres in Britain, one at Dungavel, South Lanarkshire, and the other at Harmondsworth, near Heathrow Airport, in west London. The 35-acre Shropshire site was recently bought by Angel Group, a company which is contracted by National Asylum Support Service to provide accommodation for asylum seekers. Last night Mr Nicklin said: “We are a very rural community surrounded by small villages and yet they are going to deposit 750 people of a very different culture in the middle of our community. “We appreciate that asylum seekers have to be accommodated somewhere but we don’t think that a small rural community is the right place.” Humfrey Malins, Tory spokesman on immigration said: “The Conservatives, along with other organisations including Amnesty International, are desperate to persuade the Government that this type of accommodation is too large and should not be in rural areas. “They should have a maximum of 250 people and should be sited in urban areas which are far more suited to asylum seekers’ needs.” Pub landlord Timothy Mason, who runs the Cleveland Arms in High Ercall, also has reservations about the proposed complex. He said: “I run the only social establishment in the village and so if they want a night out they will come here. On the one hand it may bring ringing tills but it may also bring other serious problems.” Last night the Home Office and the Angel Group refused to discuss details of the proposed accommodation. Conservative Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire, has raised the residents’ concerns with Home Office Minister Angela Eagle. He said: “It’s an extraordinarily illchosen spot. “This part of Shropshire has neither the infrastructure nor the public services to cope with such a large influx. People who come to these centres are often bewildered and frightened and in need of help but none of the facilities they need in terms of public transport, village doctor or language teachers are available.” Ms Eagle has confirmed in a letter to Mr Paterson that the site has been “put forward by the Angel Group as part of its contract with the National Asylum Support Service as possible dispersal accommodation for asylum seekers”. Angel Group spokesman Mark Penfold said: “We are quite deliberately not making any comment.” Banners and posters protesting about the proposed site are prominently displayed around the village with slogans such as “Fight for Our Rural Heart” and “Boot Out Angel. No Asylum Accommodation Here”. Plans for the site – bought by Angel Group for GBP 2.5million from a company called Centrex – are also understood to include a police post. Angel Group hopes to gain permission from the Home Office to use the site as an assessment centre for asylum seekers where their applications to stay in the UK will be processed. If an application for asylum status is successful they will then be able to move anywhere in the country. It is understood that Angel want to expand the existing Centrex buildings, which are currently capable of housing about 250 people. Meanwhile, the number of asylum seekers illegally entering Britain has risen dramatically in recent weeks. Dozens of young Afghan and Kurdish men were last week caught stowing away aboard a Channel Tunnel freight train. Only days before, 34 illegal immigrants were arrested on the British side of the tunnel after smuggling themselves in on overnight trains. Last month British Transport Police picked up record numbers of illegal immigrants at the Dollands Moor rail depot near Folkestone.