THE GOVERNMENT has no active plans to turn Holywood’s disused Kinnegar Barracks into a refugee centre.
That’s according to a senior UK minister, who says that although Home Office officials are checking into ‘alternative large-scale sites’ that could house refugees, Kinnegar ‘is not currently being considered for asylum accommodation’.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick made the statement in response to questions on the issue from North Down MP Stephen Farry – with Mr Farry commenting that he’s relieved to hear nothing will happen with the idea.
“I am glad that common sense has prevailed at least in this specific respect,” said the Alliance MP, stating that anyone housed in Kinnegar would have been unable to prepare food, while arguing that placing asylum seekers in disused barracks is wrong in principle.
Mr Farry wrote to the minister after documents obtained by the Times newspaper last month listed the Holywood army base as a potential location for up to 500 beds for migrants.
Officials were said to be eyeing it, as well as several other surplus military bases around the UK, as a part of a solution to the government’s ongoing struggle to bring its asylum system under control.
The system has infamously been hit by vast backlogs in processing applications as well as a lack of accommodation for refugees, which has frequently seen asylum seekers block-booked into hotels instead of housed in purpose-built centres.
In his reply to Mr Farry, the minister confirmed that the government is looking for large sites across the country that could ‘provide basic, fit for purpose and functional accommodation whilst asylum seekers await a decision on their claim’.
He also reinforced that the current system ‘is unsustainable’, stating that putting up the current figure of 51,000 migrants in hotels costs the state £6.2m a day.
Turning to Kinnegar, Mr Jenrick added: “For the safety, security, and wellbeing of those we house we do not routinely engage directly with the local community, nor do we publicly comment on individual hotels which may or may not be utilised.
“However, I can confirm that Kinnegar Logistics Base is not currently being considered for asylum accommodation.”
That was welcomed by Mr Farry, who argues that people fleeing war and persecution should be treated with compassion – and thinks that putting refugees into disused army bases is part of a deliberate government ploy to create ‘a hostile environment’ that treats asylum seekers like criminals.
“The use of military sites is a deliberate choice to seek an even more basic and functional form of accommodation,” he said. “It will seem much more like detention.
“There are rightly concerns regarding the length of time that people are staying in hotels, but the reason for that is the failure of the Home Office to invest in processing applications, which would let people settle in the community and work. “
The North Down MP added that he had specific concerns about using Kinnegar, a site he described as ‘increasingly derelict’.
“Although there is some accommodation on site, there are no catering facilities and asylum seekers would not have the resources or the means to leave the site to seek food and other essentials,” he said.
“I am glad that common sense has prevailed at least in this specific respect.
“North Down will continue to welcome those in need and recognise the contribution that they can make to our society.”