Will Pontins be the next migrant camp?


Camber, or at least Camber Sands is no stranger to the national press, used on numerous occasions as a back drop for feature films and advertising campaigns, the most recent when Sir Michael Caine appeared live on set earlier this year, as covered by Rye News.

Another focus of local and national media attention has been Pontins Holiday Camp which has had plenty of bad press following exposure of the poor conditions unsuspecting holiday makers have discovered on arrival there. The owners, Britannia Hotels have faced fierce criticism in recent years and were named as the UK’s worst hotel chain for eight consecutive years by the consumer watchdog, Which?

The Pontins chalets, caught in a time warp?

With the recent sharp increase in Channel migrants, the hotel bill for accommodating small boat arrivals in various hotels and guest houses is costing the taxpayer £6,000,000 a day.

We understand from a report in today’s (13 December) Daily Mail that the Home Office is in negotiations to hire Pontins Holiday Camp to accommodate migrant arrivals. The 820-chalet, purpose-built facility, built in 1968 and set in approximately 32 acres, is just moments away from Camber’s famous and very highly regarded five-mile long Blue Flag beach.

The sun sets on Camber Sands.

A government source has confirmed that this site “is one of the options under consideration” and as it’s less than an hour’s drive from Dover, where the majority of migrants land from Northern France, it seems an obvious contender.

It comes after 555 migrants reached Britain over the weekend despite the sub-zero conditions, the total number to have arrived in small boats since the start of the year is now 44,867 compared with 28,526 in the whole of last year.

Desperate people in a desperate situation who see the UK as a safe haven. Pontins isn’t the only location under consideration and it is understood that alternative sites also being examined include disused student accommodation and properties owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Social media sites are already seeing reaction to this proposal,  comments such as “Why not stop at Pontins?”. Another says: “We’ve lots of caravan parks too which’ll be empty most of the winter. Hundreds of refugees could be temporarily housed locally.” One post reads: ” This is ridiculous, given the entire population of  Camber is circa 1400 people. There’s inadequate shops, schools, doctors as it is.”

If this proposal goes ahead then at least Pontins will provide a much needed safe haven for these new visitors and whilst the conditions there may not be to the standards we consider acceptable, when you genuinely have nothing, have cheated death by crossing the channel and have, in many cases, escaped the horrors you left behind you, Pontins all of a sudden looks like the paradise it was always meant to be.


Image Credits: Nick Forman .

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  1. Please find the statement from Rother District Council on this matter below.
    We have made the government aware of the serious concerns that all public sector partners in Rother and East Sussex share about the suitability of the Pontins site at Camber as accommodation for asylum seekers.

    This is a remote site with little connection to local facilities like shops, transport, health services and schools which would make it difficult for the Home Office and its agencies to arrange essential welfare and services for migrants placed at the site.

    It would also inevitably put more demand on the services provided by local public and voluntary organisations like ours which are already extremely thinly stretched and inadequately funded. This was true even before the heavy extra demand from the placement of [many hundreds] of cross-channel migrants in East Sussex, especially along the coast, in recent weeks.

    We have a proud history of supporting people in need in our communities but do not believe this arrangement would be good either for asylum seekers or for the wider public.
    End -“

    • I’d already tried to post a way to reach local shops and services. It seems I’m not allowed to provide an answer to your question. Answer please management?
      Perhaps quite a few businesses locally will welcome our new arrivals. I believe they each receive £400 per week to spend and that could be very welcomed into businesses.
      We have no choice but to embrace the new system. So it’s best that ways to make this work for locals are also discussed. Food vans, phone top ups, whatever the needs of hundreds of men are and also the needs of locals.

  2. Surely it’s inevitable that Pontins and the like will be used regardless of the local facilities. If it’s a fact that over 45,000 migrants have crossed the channel in 2022, for practical reasons, where are they supposed to be housed when there are empty holiday camps? And can there be any doubt that Pontins will be delighted to have the income.

  3. Nobody has any issue with helping genuine refugees, by all means let’s do what we can. But this article is possibly the most distorted this publication has allowed.
    ‘Desperate people in a desperate situation’ It’s a fact that many of this current wave of immigrants are from Europe, not war torn countries or countries where they are abused, tortured or incarcerated (read the reports from our own security services) for little or no reason. Their only desperation is to get across the channel.
    ‘whilst the conditions there may not be to the standards we consider acceptable’ Does the author equate these standards to that that we give to our own homeless, many of whom are surviving currently out in the bitter cold.
    ‘when you genuinely have nothing’ and have cheated death’ Many that arrive have contacts here in the murky world of illegality (ask our security services). And the as for ‘cheated death’ you do not put yourself in a seriously dangerous situation, get away with it then say you cheated death. You cheat death after surviving an accidental event. Not a deliberate venture that is well known to risk your life. You have played a grown up game of ‘chicken’ just like kids used to do on railway lines.
    If Pontins is used it may be paradise for some but for for Camber and surrounding residents, some how I doubt it.
    I am very disappointed at the imbalance that has been allowed in this article.

    • Hear, hear. As usual, it’s the affluent who mainly support such schemes as they will not be affected by the problems such as overcrowding and unhappiness caused in the small and remote neighbourhood of Camber and the like.

    • The media are definitely focussing on the increase in Albanian ‘small boat migrants’, which have certainly increased. The Govt’s own figures describe the story: “From May to September 2022 Albanian nationals alone comprised 42% of small boat crossings, with 11,102 Albanians arriving by small boat in those five months. In contrast, over the whole of 2021 there were a total of 815 Albanian nationals who arrived by this method. In some weeks over the summer, more than half of small boat arrivals claimed to be Albanian.” However, the simple recognition of an increase in people from what the Govt tell us is a ‘safe country’ doesn’t, as ever, tell the full story.
      Every asylum application, regardless of nationality, is decided by Home Office caseworkers on its own merits. The fact that a person comes from Albania does not mean they may not have a valid asylum claim. Though generally they are less likely to be successful as compared to other nationalities (53% compared to 76% for all nationalities), it does not mean an Albanian might never require protection. Indeed, break it down by gender and age and the picture is different. Whilst only 14% of Albanian adult males whose cases were concluded in the latest year were granted protection, for children and female Albanian asylum seekers the grant rate is currently 90%. This of course highlights one factor often ignored – people run from many types of danger, including modern slavery and sex trafficking. They aren’t always running from war. Lots still are, of course…
      From January 2018 to June 2022, Iranian (28%) and Iraqi (20%) nationals represented nearly half of all small boat arrivals. In the first six months of 2022, over half (51%) of small boat arrivals were from three nationalities – Albanian (18%), Afghan (18%) and Iranian (15%).
      Lastly, it’s worth noting something which actually chimes, in a way, with what Colin’s saying: People generally don’t run from safe, stable, just countries where they can speak their minds and their kids can thrive. The best way for the UK to manage migration and asylum is to do our bit to create a world where rights are respected and people’s aspirations can be met.

    • Colin raises a point I’ve never considered. Why don’t we house the homeless in empty holiday park chalets during the Winter .. and why do migrants get housed before our own who are shivering on our freezing streets?

      • Rother has for responsibility for housing homeless people, and has spent some millions since 2019 buying homes as temporary accommodation for homeless people. This is better than “B&B” for the people and cheaper for Rother. There are schemes (not just local to Rother) to nip housing problems in the bud and hopefully prevent the person becoming homeless.
        There are, thankfully, very few street-sleepers in Rother (I think perhaps a dozen out of a population of 100k), but they are brought into warm places during cold weather. Many, if not most, have problems such as mental health issues in addition to being homeless and I’m sure some can’t adapt easily to living indoors.
        It is probable that Holiday and caravan parks have planning and licensing conditions on them preventing their use for permanent dwellings. Those conditions might be changed, but they will have been imposed for good reason. In any case we really should, can and do better than that for our residents.
        In order to improve the supply of private rented accommodation Rother runs a tenant finder scheme under which Rother takes on much of the risk from the landlord. I’d encourage anyone thinking of letting should look at it -https://www.rother.gov.uk/housing/rother-tenant-finder-scheme-incentive/
        All in all Housing is a big topic and I’m no expert – but Rother has a good record and has worked creatively to reduce problems to the bare minimum. It’s the sort of Local Authority work which doesn’t get the coverage it deserves.

      • I hate to say it again, but I’m not sure it’s that simple.
        I don’t think there’s any evidence that homeless members of our settled community take second place to asylum-seekers, migrants or refugees from overseas. But certainly, the Home Office has deeper pockets than hard-pressed local authorities, and it’s having to accommodate more and more arrivals to our shores bcs it’s failing to process people. Daft ideas like the Rwanda scheme are a mean-spirited, costly distraction. And regardless of one’s feelings about immigration, judging by the levels of small boat crossings, it’s apparently an abject policy failure. The shortage of council housing and the likely failure of the government to meet its target for building new homes is also of relevance. But let’s zoom out a bit too and recall where the majority of people have been coming from in recent years – Iraq, Kurdistan, Afghanistan and Syria. And what’s been going on in these countries for the last 20 years? Conflict and utter chaos… The social and physical fabric of these countries has been destroyed by ‘The War on Terror’ and its un-intended (but not unforeseeable) consequences. Is it any wonder there’s a migration crisis?

  4. Six million pounds per day to house asylum seekers and economic migrants equates to £420 per week. To put it in perspective it vastly exceeds the grossly inflated figure (£350m) on the big red bus – the amount the Leave campaign claimed we sent each week to the EU.
    Free movement of workers within the Single Market never had anything to do with irregular immigration or immigration from outside the EU – which we always controlled, though many may have been mislead to believing it did. Leaving the EU has done nothing to address how we deal with asylum seekers or economic migrants from outside the EU. Instead we have lost the benefits of international cooperation (eg Dublin Agreement) and access to intelligence.
    Rother is rightly proud of its record of welcoming refugees under the Afghan, Syrian and Ukrainian schemes, but central government has a long way to go to establish systems half as good (for the migrants as well as for us) as we had as members of the EU.

  5. Everyone who lives in Camber and the surrounding area including Rye and beyond should be very worried about having an asylum settlement camp in Camber. It will contain thousands of mostly young, single men who are not allowed to work (for years most likely if not months) and little in the way of benefits. What are they going to do all day? Where are they going to go? The small local population will be overwhelmed. And once migrants are housed, it won’t be temporary as there is no where else for them to go. There are almost no public services available in the village and little in the way of amenities. It will also have a huge and detrimental impact on the tourist trade. (And on house prices and sales- no one will ever want to buy your home). Who will want to visit Camber with potentially thousands of asylum seekers wandering around the village, beach and local paths into Rye as this is the reality? How safe will local women and girls in particular feel with thousands of single, unemployed young men wandering around? And how safe will your properties be as burglaries of permanent residences and second homes are likely to increase? (This is not an offensive comment but a reality check as there are few options for poor, desperate people who can’t earn money over a long period of time). Any policy for resettling thousands of asylum seekers in small rural villages is abhorrent for local residents as well as for the asylum seekers themselves. Large camps are not the answer. The government know that dispersal in denser urban populations is the only viable way. But why not find an easy solution without thinking through or caring about the implications. After all, Camber is not an affluent village or a big one with few voices of protest so where better to choose? It is time that everyone who lives in the local area, who believes in the local community, and who wants to keep alive the tourist trade in Camber and Rye, should write to protest to their local MP as well as councillors. Pontins is the only beneficiary from this plan- a way to keep their aged and substandard accommodation making money. That’s not acceptable for me as a resident. It shouldn’t be for you either.

  6. Some interesting comments. This remains a highly controversial issue. The vast majority of people entering the UK in small boats are not desperate asylum seekers or refugees, they are illegal economic migrants. The evidence is partly from the fact that most are young men, with relatively few women and children arriving, and the fact that many are currently coming from countries deemed ‘safe’, such as Albania. Wherever they are from, they are deliberately endangering themselves in the boats to get a better life and to jump the UK’s legal migration queue. As a recent TV documentary showed, a whole generation of poorly paid or unemployed young Albanians have decamped to the UK, copying others who have done so. In order to stay, almost all the migrants realise they need to claim asylum when they set foot in the UK and most do so, even though they are not genuine asylum seekers. A very few may be. The problem the Home Office has is processing the asylum claims swiftly, especially when the claims have been made dishonestly. For example, anecdotal evidence exists that a significant number of ‘Afghan’ asylum seekers actually turn out to be from Pakistan. If someone tells you ‘I was threatened with death by a gang in Albania (or by the Taliban)’, how do you prove that is true? You cannot. The government’s Rwanda ‘solution’ appears to be unworkable and should be shelved. Right now we are witnessing a serious failure to protect our borders. Given that the migrant source countries will not welcome back the migrants, how does one return them? The planes would probably not be allowed to land if we decided to return illegals by air. It’s true that Brexit has generated a host of problems regarding immigration, labour supply and so on.
    Britain’s history of egregious interference in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan is not one to be proud of. I have some sympathy for genuine asylum seekers from those countries. However, asylum seekers should seek safe haven in the first country they arrive in, whereas it’s obvious that the boat people are deliberately targeting the UK as an active ‘preference’, so to speak. They could easily apply for asylum in France, for example.
    At 44,000 last year, the influx to the UK is not as high as some European neighbours have experienced, but it’s still worrying as our government seems incapable of solving the problem. It’s not just the accommodation cost involved, it’s the added strain on our social services, schools, hospitals, and on the social fabric. As more countries succumb to authoritarian rule or anarchy, and more regions become uninhabitable due to global warming, Europe and the UK will soon see climate refugees in their tens of millions, not the tens of thousands.
    I agree with RDC: housing hundreds of economic migrants in Camber is simply not viable. Camber already suffers a degree of social deprivation — much greater than Rye — despite the over-priced holiday homes than stand empty most of the year. Camber lacks the services to deal with additional permanent residents on the scale proposed.

  7. I agree with Scott. I feel we should be a safe haven for genuine refugees not those who have come from safe countries. To say this country takes less than others in Europe is unfair. France is 2.3 times larger than the UK and with a similar population and Germany is 1.5 times larger for instance. The government needs to get a grip of the situation rapidly. We are paying for this! This isn’t the government’s money, it’s ours!

  8. After the announcement yesterday that Pontins Camber is closing with immediate effect, this article sets alarm bells ringing very loudly indeed

  9. The Home Office scrapped plans for a migrant centre back in February, after Rother submitted various objections. So, we have to hope this week’s Home Secretary honours that decision, not for any polemical anti-migrant cause, but bcs a small community and its limited infrastructure and services couldn’t cope. It wouldn’t work for migrants any more than it would for local people.

    The best way to avoid housing tens of thousands of unfortunate people at a cost to us of millions per day is to process the dysfunctional Home Office’s backlog and provide a decent, fit for purpose asylum system complete with viable safe routes for legitimate claimants. Immoderate rhetoric and posturing doesn’t solve the issue…

    As a footnote, if the infelicitously named James ‘Cleverly’ is looking for a site to warehouse human beings , I guess he might try Stockton-on-Tees, which he recently defamed in Parliament as a “s***-****”. Presumably he couldn’t be much less popular now anyway…

    • That was my first thought on hearing the news yesterday. I imagine a separate story will soon be posted to discuss this developments and someone will have information on how it might affect the local community. What is most interesting is how the site will be used going forward. Hopefully it will not end up as a rotting monument to the past.

  10. Significant investment would be needed to upgrade the Pontins facility as a new holiday park. I’d suggest the most likely fate will be a land sale and the site being redeveloped for homes. Anyone buying homes in this low-lying area should, however, be aware of the risk of tidal flooding as the sea level continues to rise. It would be good if the Council could purchase a small section of the Pontins site for public use — say, a couple of public tennis courts, a ten-pin bowling alley, outside basketball court, a small park, or whatever. Develop some of this site for the public good, not just for greedy developers.

  11. Interesting to read that Simon is concerned about flooding on the Pontins site, maybe he’d care to explain why the EA have spent millions building a sea wall to protect the low land.

  12. Let’s hope Rother Council agrees only to a re-use that enhances the area with the emphasis on creating year round employment opportunities. It would be great to attract a developer to upgrade the site and develop a year round camping/adventure centre for schools or even build an indoor waterpark with parking onsite.


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