CHURCH leaders in areas mentioned in a report critical of the Government for unfairly dispersing asylum-seekers to the poorest parts of the UK have responded to its claims.
The report by the Commons Home Affairs Committee, published last Friday, states that the Home Office has displayed “appalling” prejudice by sending the majority of asylum-seekers to low-cost housing in urban areas such as Glasgow, Stoke, and Middlesbrough, and avoiding resettlement in richer constituencies.
The Rural Dean of Middlesbrough, the Revd Dominic Black, said: “It makes sense to house people where housing is cheap and available, but we do need to be properly supported by the State and the wider Church.”
Churches in the diocese were at the forefront of support for asylum-seekers and have become deeply familiar with the “long-winded bureaucracy” of the asylum system, he said. He warned, however, that if the Church was to encourage people to provide a welcome, it must “recognise that the burden is not falling to the well-resourced parishes of the suburbs, but on the already hard-pressed urban parishes”.
The Home Office launched an investigation into the housing of asylum-seekers in the north-east of England, last month, after claims that doors in Middlesbrough had been painted red, and asylum-seekers had been given coloured wristbands to make them identifiable.
Mr Black said that the door colour was “simply carelessness” and that families had already suffered months of abuse. “They had excrement smeared on their widows, domestic waste dumped in their back yard, their water cut off, verbal and physical abuse,” he said.
The chair of the Committee, Keith Vaz MP, said that the current dispersal system was unfair, and implored the Government to reconsider the “generous offers” of accommodation for Syrian refugees made by individuals such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, among others.
The report suggests, however, that too many local authorities have been unwilling to take part in the voluntary dispersal scheme, and that MPs should be putting the pressure on richer constituencies to provide suitable accommodation. It points to several Conservative councils that have no recorded asylum-seekers, including Surrey Heath, Cheshire, and West Oxfordshire, the Prime Minister’s constituency.
The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, said that it was “an incredible shame” that Surrey Heath Council had “not been in a position” to take in any asylum-seekers.“I understand that lack of available accommodation (rather than willingness) is the principle problem,” he said on Tuesday.
The diocese was working to remedy the situation and find suitable housing, he said, and would welcome a change in government policy to allow refugees to be taken into people’s homes.
In March 2012, the Home Office signed six new contracts, COMPASS (Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support), with G4S, Serco, and Clearel in an attempt to save about £140 million in seven years on the housing budget for asylum-seekers.
The Committee said that the scandals in the north-east posed “major questions” over the running of the contracts, which had been mostly unsatisfactory to date, and had highlighted a failure in meeting basic humanitarian and housing standards.
Mr Vaz said that it was alarming that the funding was being used to encourage segregation, and demonstrated an “unacceptable attitude” towards vulnerable people.