Refugees to be housed on foot and mouth pit By Sophie Goodchild Home Affairs Correspondent

12 May 2002

Ministers are to build one of three "villages" for asylum-seekers on a site where thousands of foot-and-mouth carcasses were buried. The location, at Throckmorton airfield, in Worcestershire, was chosen from a shortlist of eight. Two more will be built at RAF Newton near West Bridgford, in Nottinghamshire, and on Ministry of Defence land in Bicester, Oxfordshire. More than 130,000 animal carcasses were dumped at Throckmorton, making the disused airfield the largest burial pit in the Midlands.

The rural location of all three sites will disappoint refugee groups that campaigned for centres near cities so refugees would have access to legal aid and other facilities. Keith Best, the director of the Immigration Advisory Service, said the centres would become "ghetto camps" where refugees were excluded from society.

"This shows a contempt for asylum-seekers and that this Government is not even prepared to view asylum-seekers as second-class citizens but as barely human," he said.

Earlier this year, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said he had drafted plans to build at least four reception centres to house up to 750 asylum-seekers each.

The centres - from which people will be allowed to come and go - are supposed to be an alternative to the controversial "dispersal" system, under which tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have been sent to live in council and housing association accommodation across the country.

The shortlist of sites was published earlier this year. All are on Crown property, which allows the Government to use special regulations to win planning permission.

More than 3,000 villagers in Throckmorton have signed a petition objecting to the centre. They say that property prices have already fallen after the land was used as a foot-and-mouth burial site.

Peter Luff, the MP for Mid Worcestershire, said any plan to house refugees on the site would be a "moral outrage".

"This is wrong for asylum-seekers and wrong for the community," he added.

Amnesty International, the Law Society and the Commission for Racial Equality have written to Mr Blunkett, asking him to locate the centres near cities so refugees have access to schools, law centres and leisure facilities

"They have to be in urban areas," said Neil Gerrard, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party refugee group.