LONGFORD (United Kingdom) An influx of Channel-crossing asylum seekers into a tiny English village has become a tension point in the migration crisis as a surge of people flee war and poverty to Britain.
The migrants, many of whom were previously living in the tent camp in Calais, are bussed into the hamlet of Longford to be temporarily housed at the Heathrow Lodge and in surrounding houses used by the hotel.
Home to a few hundred locals, the villagers see the steady arrival as just the latest encroachment.
Once surrounded by farms and orchards, the vast car parks and hotels of Heathrow Airport now border Longford and planes roar overhead, seeming close enough to scrape the chimneys of the thatched cottages.
A planned extension to Heathrow, already one of the world’s busiest airports, threatens Longford with the same fate that befell the small village that gave the airport its name: total demolition.
In the meantime, dozens of asylum seekers have made Longford their temporary home.
“It used to be beautiful around here,” said flight engineer Trevor Gordon, 64, seated at the bar under the low wooden beams of the White Horse pub.
“It’s nothing to do with racism,” he added. “But why are they here?”
The Home Office does not release data on how many migrants make it across the Channel from France on ferries or trains, although dozens have been reported arriving on a single night.
Karim was being housed with seven others, some from Syria, Sudan and Eritrea, in a Longford home that has been divided up into simple motel accommodation, with a shared bathroom and locks on each bedroom door.
Abdul Kataloni, who gave his age as 15, looked visibly exhausted as he detailed a journey that took him from Darfur, through Libya, across the sea to Italy, before he jumped on a train at Calais.
“Very dangerous. People died,” he said of the sea crossing. “I saw death,” he added. “My grandmother. She couldn’t go on, she was too tired.”
– Europe ‘a soft touch’ –
The company in charge of housing asylum seekers in the area on behalf of Britain’s Home Office is Clear springs, one of three private companies chosen to house asylum seekers in Britain.
But locals blame the influx of migrants on the owner of the Longford hotel properties: Surinder Arora, a one-time baggage handler who worked his way up to a Â£356 million fortune (485 million euros, $550 million).
Arora reportedly bought up a clutch of Longford houses, first using them as overnight accommodation for airline workers, before being used for temporarily housing recently arrived asylum seekers.
A spokesman at Arora Hotels reached by AFP was reticent when asked for comment.
“This is not something we want to engage on. We have had a lot of conversations with locals,” said the spokesman, who did not give his name.
Some locals however see opportunities in the new arrivals.
Businessman Nav Singh, 42, grew up in the area and lives nearby.
He approached AFP to ask what company was managing the housing of the asylum seekers, in the hopes of cutting a business deal himself.
A son of migrant Sikhs who came from India in the 1960s, Singh warned that letting asylum seekers into England was dangerous however.
“Europe is too much of a soft touch,” he said.