In recent times, the issues of both housing strategies for those seeking asylum in the UK, and of increasing racial tensions within the country, have been brought to the forefront of many news outlets and topics of conversation – often going hand-in-hand. Following what has been deemed a politically-motivated attempt last month at worsening these tensions, Evie Crossland discusses the UK government’s housing initiative for those who require it, and the implications of this.
In March, Ashfield District Council located, in Nottingham, condemned fake planning signs put up outside a local pub stating it would be turned into an ‘immigrant processing hostel’.
“A despicable, politically-motivated and racist attempt to stir tensions”
The council confirmed that the application for a change of use license, located outside the Bluebell Pub in Mansfield, Skegby, was false. David Hennigan, an independent councillor for Sutton Central and New Cross, told the Nottingham Post that the fake signage was a “racist attempt to stir up tensions”.
He said, “there is no such application and this amounts to a despicable, politically-motivated and racist attempt to stir tensions. Therefore, I have formally written to the Chief Constable and the local policing team asking them to investigate this under incitement to racial hatred legislation.”
This incident comes after a series of staged protests outside hotels housing asylum seekers within England, including the Mansfield region.
“A floating barge does not provide what they need nor the respect, dignity and support they deserve”
In an attempt to reduce the quantity of asylum seekers housed across hotels in the UK, the Home Office confirmed new plans on 5th April to house asylum seekers on a 93-metre-long barge located off the coast of Dorset. Named the ‘Bibby Stockholm’, the barge is due to accommodate approximately 500 single adult males while they have their asylum claims processed. The Home Office states that the barge will be ‘‘significantly cheaper than hotels’’, however the cost remains unclear.
In response to the Government’s plans, chief executive of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, states: ‘‘A floating barge does not provide what they need nor the respect, dignity and support they deserve.’’ He further adds, “there would be no need to use barges and former military bases if cases were dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.”
Carralyn Parkes, a Portland local Labour councillor and artist echoes similar beliefs, telling the Guardian: “I think it’s appalling that this government would consider putting some of the most vulnerable and traumatised people on a barge in Portland port.” She goes on to state that: “There isn’t the infrastructure to care for them. We don’t have a hospital. We have a GP that covers up to about 14,000 people. Portland is cut off with one road on and one road off.’’
395 hotels around the UK are accommodating more than 51,000 asylum seekers
On a local election campaign visit to Peterborough, the Prime Minister reiterated the suitability of the barge for housing asylum seekers, saying “I’ve committed to reducing that number [the cost of housing asylum seekers], moving asylum seekers out of hotels and that means we need to find alternative sites, including barges like the one we’ve brought forward today.’’ The Prime Minister further adds: “that’s going to save the taxpayer money, reduce pressure on hotels and it’s part of our broader plan to stop the boats.”
Whilst the number of hotels housing asylum seekers has never been confirmed by the government, a source told the BBC that 395 hotels around the UK are accommodating more than 51,000 asylum seekers, costing more than £6m per day.
According to data from the Home Office, the number of asylum seekers in initial or contingency accommodation has increased exponentially since the number of people claiming asylum has increased, which rose to 74,751 applications in 2022, the highest annual number since 2002.
It is unclear how the barge will achieve reduced use of hotel accommodation when there is such a great demand on the system.
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