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Asylum seeker on hunger strike ‘denied’ emergency help at migrant centre

Footage has been released of the incident at the former RAF Wethersfield site in Essex

Alex Ross
Wednesday 20 September 2023 23:18 BST
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Footage is said to show a man who has collapsed while on a hunger strike at Wethersfield asylum seeker accommodation centre

An asylum seeker who collapsed while on hunger strike at a newly-opened migrant centre was denied emergency medical help, a refugee charity has claimed.

Care4Calais has released footage of an incident at the former RAF Wethersfield air base in Essex, which was recently turned into a housing centre for up to 1,700 asylum seekers.

The charity claims the video shows an Iranian man who had collapsed two days into a hunger strike in protest over living conditions and the quality of food.

The group said staff at the centre failed to get the man emergency medical help while one person, who the charity claims is a staff member, could be heard saying: “Yes, but he had three meals a day. Three meals. That was his choice not to eat guys”.

It comes a day after a damning inquiry revealed the mistreatment of asylum seekers at a separate centre, Brook House Immigrational Removal Centre in West Sussex.

Care4Calais said an ambulance only attended the Wethersfield site to take the man to hospital after it alerted emergency services to the incident on September 6. The Home Office said it would not comment on individual cases and maintained asylum seekers had access to health and social care services.

But Care4Calais claims the footage is further evidence of the mistreatment of asylum seekers after an investigation into Brook House Immigration Removal Centre found officers repeatedly used dehumanising language against those inside.

Steve Smith, chief executive officer at Care4Calais, said asylum seekers at Wethersfield were facing an experience akin to “state-sponsored cruelty”.

The facility at Wethersfield is designed to house up to 1,700 asylum seekers (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)

He said: “They are being kept out of sight behind barbed wire, fed a repetitive, unwholesome diet, and denied access to medical assistance, even in an emergency.

“The fact that it fell to a member of the Care4Calais staff in the north of England to task an ambulance to the Wethersfield site in Essex when one of the residents collapsed, speaks volumes.”

The centre is one of several the government has opened to reduce the now-£8 million-a-day cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels. The Home Office says the “large-scale” sites are cheaper and provide more manageable accommodation.

The centre, around eight miles from Braintree, opened in July to people coming from a processing facility in Kent. It is designed to house up to 1,700 people - but The Independent understands just short of 200 are currently inside.

There have been protests locally over the use of the former RAF base for an asylume seekers accommodation centre (AFP via Getty Images)

Since opening, Care4Calais said there had already been unrest over “harsh conditions” inside and the food served. Residents get an egg and a cup of milk for breakfast, followed by a burger and fries for dinner most days, the charity claimed.

The asylum seeker who took the video of the incident released a statement through Care4Calais in which he described the site as “a military camp”. He also complained about a lack of medical treatment after he suffered severe toothache.

The man, from Libya, said: “Everyone is unhappy and uncomfortable. All we can do is eat, sleep, and pray here.

Asylum seekers in the centre are not detained, but are expected to return by 11pm every night (PA Wire)

“It’s like a military camp. First, there were 45 people here but they keep bringing more and more people. There’s over 150 people now, all living in one building. The meals are horrible, we can’t eat them.”

In a statement, the Home Office said: “Despite the number of people arriving in the UK reaching record levels, we continue to ensure the accommodation provided is safe, secure and leaves no one destitute.

“The food provided in asylum accommodation meets NHS Eatwell standards and responds to all culture and dietary requirements. Individuals seeking asylum also have access to health and social care services from the point of arrival in the UK, and to suggest otherwise is wrong.”

The project to open a series of asylum accommodation centres is part of one of Rishi Sunak’s priorities to “stop the boats” and clear the UK’s “legacy” asylum backlog by the end of 2023.

Along with Wethersfield, a centre has opened at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire and plans are in place to bring asylum seekers back onboard the Bibby Stockholm vessel in Portland Harbour in Dorset. There are also plans to house asylum seekers at the former prison called HMP Northeye in East Sussex.

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