238 asylum seekers 'secretly' moved into city centre hotel by Home Office
More than 200 asylum seekers have been "secretly" moved into a Birmingham hotel without any consultation with city leaders.
Birmingham Council bosses say they vehemently oppose the move and have accused the Home Office of leaving them in the dark.
It’s understood that city bosses only became aware of the plans to relocate 238 asylum seekers days before the first were due to arrive at the budget hotel.
They say they’ve had no time to prepare nearby residents and businesses or to put in proper support for those claiming refuge.
It’s understood the council was informed of plans to relocate 238 asylum seekers into the city on May 21 – less than a week before the first were due to be placed there on May 27.
And in a furious letter to the Home Officer, council leader Ian Ward warns the decision, combined with the lack of extra funding and already high number of relocated asylum seekers, could fuel community tension.
In a letter to the junior minister Chris Philp, Councillor Ward says the city may now refuse to accept resettled asylum seekers in future.
He writes: “The existing total of service users in Initial Accommodation in Birmingham is 593 individuals, far higher than any single other local authority and in fact a higher number than any single other region in the country.
“All this activity has been totally unfunded by central Government and this remains the case in this time of national crisis.”
In his letter, Councillor Ward also goes on to warn of "significant" community tensions once rough sleepers reconvene in the immediate area, citing the hotel’s location, and other long-term issues with community safety and criminality.
The UK has a legal responsibility to settle anyone claiming political asylum while their cases are assessed – including children and adults fleeing violence and persecution.
Under existing settlement programmes, local authorities and the Home Office are expected to work together to identify suitable housing.
Local politicians say they accept the need for the city to take their share of people in need but say they’ve had little chance to integrate new arrivals into the community.
They have also questioned the Home Office’s ability to ensure the wellbeing of the new arrivals after nine individuals at one hostel developed Covid-19 symptoms back in March.
Shabana Mahmood, MP for Ladywood, has also added her voice to concerns that the Home Office did not consult with city officials.
She said: “Councils have been left in the dark as to what is happening in their local areas. This lets everyone down – both the asylum seekers themselves and local residents across our city.
“If ministers fail to take this issue seriously and adopt an holistic approach with an allocation of increased resources where necessary, they will fail some of the most vulnerable people our city is rightly standing ready to support.”
Despite the short notice, a number of community groups have recently been working with the newly-arrived asylum seekers.
Staff and volunteers at St Chad’s Sanctuary, a city-centre charity, have already been providing orientation and language support to asylum seekers currently housed at the hotel, including helping them with basic essentials and coronavirus protection.
Abigail Martin, the charity’s project manager, said: “Birmingham has always proudly done its bit to welcome refugees, including those escaping Europe during World War Two,” she said.
“The people we are talking about have fled to the UK for sanctuary because their lives are in danger. Their only priority – like it would be for me and you – is finding somewhere safe for themselves and their family.
“They don’t have a choice about where they are sent or where they are housed. While they await a decision on their case and if accommodated in a hotel, they are banned from working and receive no financial support, so require support to ensure they have basic essentials like shelter and food.
“The people we work with are grateful to have shelter, but it is vital that whatever accommodation is given does not put someone’s physical or mental health at further risk.
“Unfortunately, we know this is not happening with issues like people being unable to secure items like face masks, social distance and being served inadequate food.
“We look forward to working with Serco and the Home Office to resolve these issues, and to work towards a just and fair asylum system that protect the needs of those seeking sanctuary in the UK.”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.
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