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Barnie Choudhry. The Debate Over Asylum Centres.
Social affairs correspondent Barnie Choudhury reports

The former Conservative Chancellor and Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke has warned of violence if the Government pushes ahead with plans to build asylum centres in rural areas.

Newton, on the outskirts of Nottingham, typifies rural England, it's a quiet village where you hear birdsong rather than the noise of traffic.

But now the talk is of an 'invasion' and asylum seekers being 'dumped' in the village. This is the sort of strong language used to describe an influx of 750 people which would treble the size of Newton. Property prices have dropped since the news got out and people are annoyed, verging on being angry.

Steve - not his real name - bought his home four years ago to live in the countryside.

"It doesn't matter what nationality they are. English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, we do not need a camp of that size that close to our properties."

There is a united front against putting a centre in Newton. Even campaigners for refugees say this is a bad idea because children's education will suffer. They also say the Government will not fulfil its ambition to integrate asylum seekers if they are hidden away.

The local MP, Kenneth Clarke, has another concern. He is a seasoned politician who commands respect. No one can accuse him of going for the quick sensationalist headline. He says that the weakest part of the Government's plan is putting so many asylum seekers into a rural area. He forecasts trouble. It would be exactly the same if it were 750 English school children, he argues.

"I think you'll have violence in the camps. I think it's inevitably the young men will go drifting into the nearby market town. You're going to have a few people getting drunk and a bit of minor vandalism on a Saturday night and I think all that will be made much worse by larger numbers of youths wandering about who don't have much to do."

The Home Office is quite clear about why it has chosen a rural location. Newton is one of three, the others being in Worcestershire and Oxfordshire.

These centres will be split into zones with health, education and leisure facilities that local people can use. That way this self-contained unit will not put pressure on resources in towns and cities.

The government hopes to house up to three thousand asylum seekers. They will stay, not in detention but under certain strict conditions, for up to six months. It is hoped that such action will help to deal more quickly with asylum claims.

The Home Office Minister, Beverly Hughes, brushes aside claims that the asylum seekers will be bored and get into or cause trouble.

"I think talking up trouble is not helpful because it is feeding people's fears in an unnecessary way. We want to encourage interaction between local people and people in the centres. We are not locking people up, people will be free to come and go. But they will also have purposeful activity in the centres ... they will not be rampaging through villages."

No one wants that to happen. The villagers and their MP have simply flagged up a potential problem.

But the danger signs are there and after the success of the British National Party in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham people are feeling far from complaisant.


the Port of Dover.
Dover - gateway for many refugees
Listen - Hear Barnie Choudhry's full report. (18/06/02)
Listen - The interview with Kenneth Clarke in full. (18/06/02)
Kenneth Clarke MP
Local MP Kenneth Clarke opposes the plans.
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