Hundreds of legal threats over use of ex-RAF base for asylum accommodation, High Court told

More than 200 threats of legal action have been made against the government over accommodating asylum seekers at a former RAF base, the High Court has been told.

The government announced last year that it would use RAF Wethersfield in Essex (pictured) to house migrants, with people first moving on to the former airbase last July.

Nine asylum seekers – including victims of human trafficking, abuse, and those suffering from “serious” mental health problems – are taking legal action against the Home Office over its “unsuitable” decision to house them there.

The Home Office is opposing those claims as well as another from refugee charity Care4Calais but on Tuesday, David Manknell, representing the department, said that hundreds of threats of legal action had been issued by others housed at Wethersfield.

At a hearing in London, he said in written arguments: “The claimants challenge, in particular, the suitability of the accommodation at the site, and the process by which the Secretary of State ensures that individuals allocated to Wethersfield are suitable.

“In addition to the 10 claims that have been issued to date, the Secretary of State has received over 200 pre-action letters making similar challenges, and it is anticipated that claims will continue to be made.”

The court was also told that two further claims have been filed since Friday, with Mr Manknell claiming that the result of the ongoing cases could influence the outcome of future legal actions.

RAF Wethersfield, near Braintree, was earmarked to house asylum seekers by the government last March along with RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

A government online factsheet states the site will house up to 1,700 male migrants aged between 18 and 65 when fully operational.

Lawyers for the nine migrants – eight of whom have since been relocated – told the hearing that the Home Office had unlawfully housed them at the former airbase.

Those taking legal action include asylum seekers from Somalia, Afghanistan and Eritrea who have been victims of human trafficking and who have mental health issues including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the court was told.

In written arguments, Shu Shin Luh, representing seven asylum seekers, said: “The claimants challenge the defendant’s decision to accommodate each of them in Wethersfield and the legality of the arrangements made there.”

Ms Luh told the court that the Home Office is acting unlawfully by its “decisions to accommodate the claimants in Wethersfield on grounds related to their vulnerabilities and special needs” and on grounds related to their freedom of movement and safeguarding.

Miranda Butler, representing Care4Calais and the only asylum seeker taking legal action who still resides at the base, said he remained at the site despite being diagnosed with severe mental health problems and had twice attempted to take his own life since his arrival.

She told the court that there were “wholesale failures” in how residents were medically screened and that there was the unlawful “existence of racial segregation” through “practices and behaviours” on the site.

Mrs Justice McGowan ruled that the cases of four asylum seekers, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, could be taken forward to a four-day hearing to be held from July 23.

She put Care4Calais’ case, and those of the five other individuals, back until a later date.

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