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Thread: The rape of Bicester

  1. #1

    The rape of Bicester

    Asylum campaigners lose appeal

    The centre, on former MoD land, would hold 750 people

    Campaigners against a proposed asylum centre have lost their Court of Appeal battle to stop the plan going ahead.

    Judges backed government approval for the accommodation centre which will house 750 asylum seekers near Bicester in Oxfordshire.

    Councillors and activists in Cherwell had hoped the court would dismiss the plans rubber stamped by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

    Opponents say the proposal had not gone through correct planning procedures.

    I recognise that there has been concern amongst some local people but I do not accept that an accommodation centre will be a detriment to the community

    Home Office Minister Des Browne

    The protesters are unhappy that the former Ministry of Defence (MoD) land between Arncott and Piddington in Oxfordshire has been earmarked for a centre to house 400 single men, 50 single women and 300 family members.

    The asylum seekers would stay at the centre while they wait to find out if their applications have been successful.

    The High Court had ruled the deputy prime minister had done nothing wrong in law when he gave permission for the centre.

    A Cherwell District Council spokesman said the authority would now "carefully consider" whether to take their battle to the House of Lords.

    'Absolutely gutted'

    Barry Wood, leader of the council, said: "We felt we had to stand behind the local people and fight against an injustice.

    "The planning inspector said, 'No', but the government just bulldozed it through."

    Dionne Arrowsmith, of the Bicester Action Group, said: "This decision is completely and utterly disappointing for many thousands of local people.

    "We have fought a very long campaign, and are absolutely gutted."

    Home Office Minister Des Browne said: "I welcome this decision to confirm approval for an accommodation centre for asylum seekers near Bicester.

    'Asylum system overhaul'

    "We have been committed throughout to a fair and open debate on our proposals, which is why we have gone through a full planning inquiry.

    "I recognise that there has been concern amongst some local people but I do not accept that an accommodation centre will be a detriment to the community.

    "The trial of accommodation centres is an essential part of our reforms, which are overhauling the asylum system and will help ensure that asylum applications can be processed quickly and efficiently. "The centre will also bring jobs and business contracts into the area."

  2. #2

    Outside the mysterious 'Site A'

    By Dominic Casciani
    BBC News Online community affairs reporter

    It's there somewhere: But security won't tell you

    There used to be 15 proposed sites for asylum centres around the UK. Now there's just one, a fact which has left people living near the site wondering "why us?"

    You can't miss the proposed site of the Bicester asylum seeker accommodation centre - hundreds of yards of fence cordon off "Site A" of the enormous Ministry of Defence holdings south of the Oxfordshire village.

    Through the gate, the security guard says he can't "divulge" whether or not you have the right place, and then warns against taking pictures.

    But pig farmer Michael Gurr knows it's there. He can see it from his fields. He's even put up a big sign just in case there is anyone in the area who's been asleep for the past two years.

    And like the thousands who do know about it and have signed petitions, he fears the worst.

    "People are worrying about crime - there's nothing for these people to do. We can see trouble coming." says Mr Gurr.

    Big trouble in little villages

    For two years, the accommodation centre plan has been trouble for the Home Office.


    • Self-contained community
    • Healthcare facilities
    • Recreation and 'purposeful activity'
    • Education for children
    • Adult education
    • Full catering services
    • Shop and bus service
    • Official areas for case work

    The trouble with asylum centres

    Trials of large-scale asylum centres are a key plank of asylum policy. They aim to relieve local services by housing asylum seekers in self-contained communities while applications are considered. In Bicester's case that means facilities for 750 people.

    But since the centres were unveiled, ministers have faced a pincer movement of local communities raising objections and expert refugee bodies raising yet more.

    Last year ministers dropped proposals for Lee on Solent after mass street protests in the south coast town.

    This Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced the other remaining alternative, RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire, was also a dead duck.

    So where there were some 15 sites on the original list, today, it appears, there is just Bicester left.

    But that is of little comfort to residents of Ambrosden, Piddington, Arncott and Blackthorn, the villages surrounding the site.

    Some claim it was selected because it's a safe Tory constituency in the middle of nowhere. Officials say it's because it is an ideal piece of redundant government land.

    "I don't understand how people can be expected to integrate if they are only here for a few months at a time," says Mr Gurr.

    "We don't know where they are coming from, what their backgrounds are."

    Field headquarters

    Last year, the local council, which supported residents, won a planning inquiry on the centre, but Mr Prescott overruled its recommendations and gave the go ahead. This week, the residents have been back in court in a last ditch attempt to stop the centre.

    Dionne Arrowsmith and Kathy Merriman: Massive campaign

    If Mr Gurr's property is the frontline, the Arncott village shop is the field headquarters for Bicester Action Group.

    Shopkeeper Kathy Merriman used to display a picture of a rural area divided by razor wire.

    "We would get hundreds of signatures a day," she says.

    "I think people feared their homes turning into something like Sangatte.

    "No one has an argument with genuine asylum seekers. But what they fear is, quite literally, train loads of young men."

    But why do they fear these men? Is this just dressed-up racism?

    This concern was echoed in a major study of local reaction to asylum by King's College London. It found a lack of information on the centre and asylum seekers in Bicester exacerbated misunderstandings and fuelled suspicions.

    And, as many villagers agreed, it's in that vacuum that tensions grow. Almost all the villagers spoken to raised fears of crime or vagrancy. A few linked asylum seekers to terrorism.

    "Bloodbath, that's what will happen," says one irate local father. "I have a cricket bat. I will use it to protect my teenage daughter - I will protect her and go to prison for it if I have to."

    Government in the spotlight

    Bicester Refugee Support has worked to shift the focus from suspicions on to the government's motives.


    It feels to us like the Home Office decided all along that they were going to have this centre, public inquiry or not

    Michael Gurr

    The campaigners present themselves as the "positive" voice and believe they have eased anxieties, with far-right political activity declining.

    "This centre is clearly wrong. But at the initial stages the needs of the asylum seekers were not being advocated at all," says Colin Thompson of the organisation.

    "The Home Office has to bear a lot of the responsibility for the unpleasantness which has occurred here.

    "There are a lot of unknowns over this project. And fear of what's going to happen, without knowing what is going to happen, is quite a negative thing."

    Back in Arncott, Dionne Arrowsmith of the Bicester Action Group says a racist element has been dealt with.

    We want to engage constructively with local people and will step this up once the legal process has been completed

    Home Office spokesman

    "This is about the infrastructure being imposed against the will of both residents and the asylum seekers themselves," she says.

    "What's now become more important is that two years down the road people are very frustrated at what was supposedly a democratic process."

    This anger towards government is coupled with anxieties about local services. So where residents see a proposed minibus for asylum seekers, they see no public service for them on weekends. Where centre residents will have a dedicated health facility, Bicester people say they are waiting for a community hospital.

    For its part, the Home Office says the centre is designed to take pressure away from standard public services. While the former minister Beverley Hughes has visited Bicester twice, officials concede greater communication has been limited by legal battles.

    Crucially, it stresses that the Bicester trial is not the end of the story; other centres are expected to go up elsewhere in the future - but their size and shape depends on asylum numbers and the success or failure of Bicester itself.

    "We recognise that there is some local opposition and that there is a need to improve communication with the local community," said a spokesman.

    On his farm, Michael Gurr remains unimpressed.

    "It feels to us like the Home Office decided all along that they were going to have this centre, public inquiry or not," he says. "I live right next door to this place but had no information from them prior to what came out in the press. I haven't had a minister coming to talk to me. "They have only managed to create racial hatred and tension by how they have gone about this."

  3. #3

    Date published: Saturday 30 October 2004
    Help make refugees feel at home appeal

    by Staff reporter

    People living near a proposed asylum centre are being urged to make the asylum seekers feel at home, now it is expected to go ahead.

    On Thursday the Appeal Court in London rejected an appeal asking that the accommodation centre at Bicester not be built.

    Afterwards, Bicester Refugee Support spokesman Rebecca Mitchell-Farmer said: "We urge local residents not to let the appalling way they have been treated by the Home Office affect their attitude towards future residents of the accommodation centre.

    "We remain strong- ly opposed to the centre but we also feel we now have to accept that it is almost certain to go ahead.

    "We are now turning our thoughts towards how we can help to make the accommodation centre a positive asset both for the future residents of the centre and of the wider community."

    She said the group had opposed the centre as it would not meet the needs of asylum seekers.

    Bicester has welcomed refugees in the past when Belgians came during the Second World War.

    She said: "We believe the centre will once again provide a new generation of the local community with the opportunity to demonstrate their humanitarian generosity towards the newcomer. We can and should welcome refugees again.

    "Let us welcome the residents of the centre and show them our hospitality, despite a misguided policy which has been imposed upon us."

    Trustee of Asylum Welcome, based in Oxford, Jan Penrose said: "It is totally wrong to place asylum seekers in a huge institution in a quiet rural area.

    "But for those very reasons residents at the centre are going to need help, support and friendship from the people of Oxfordshire."

    She added that their experience in Oxford was that most asylum seekers were keen to learn how British society worked and to fit in.

    Mrs Mitchell-Farmer said the group had already been linking up with churches and other voluntary organisations to see how local people could help.

    "I think we should appeal to the good nature of Bicester people not to blame the victims and to think how they would feel and want to be treated if they had been forced to leave their home country and seek asylum in another country. It may be local people will offer to visit asylum seekers in the centre and befriend them and offer help with transport and recreational activities.

    "We are looking at what practical measures can be taken now."

    The centre will house up to 750 asylum seekers while their applications are being processed. It is due to be constructed on surplus Defence Ministry land opposite Bullingdon prison.

    The district council is currently assessing wheth- er there are grounds for an appeal to the House of Lords.

  4. #4
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    We had a similar problem in my village. It's near the border, so illegal immigrants were penned up in the nearby barracks. They had to turn them into refugee centres, because after the eastward enlargement of the EU there is no longer a real border and they couldn't keep illegal immigrants in the barracks (which officially belonged to the border patrol and were part of the border crossing-point). And it will stay here for good, I'm afraid.

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