Town’s ultimatum over asylum seekers ‘chaos’
THE Home Office have been accused of having a ‘blatant disregard’ for Rochdale and could perform a major U-turn on the ‘disproportionate’ number of asylum seekers housed in the borough.
Local leaders are threatening to stop accepting any more and have issued an ultimatum to the government over ‘mounting chaos’ in the system, which sees many UK’s asylum seekers accommodated without any additional public funding.
Rochdale appears in the top ten local authorities nationally for asylum seeker numbers. In contrast, 180 council areas, including the Prime Minister’s local authority, house none at all.
Now Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has promised to review the current distribution of people seeking asylum nationwide.
In a response to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, he said his case had been ‘strongly made’ and vowed to ‘revisit’ the particularly large numbers of people dispersed to areas including Rochdale, Oldham, Bolton and Manchester.
Our sister paper the M.E.N reported in 2016 how local politicians had been growing increasingly frustrated over the Home Office’s approach to the distribution of asylum seekers, one that dates back to Tony Blair’s government.
That ‘dispersal’ policy had originally aimed to avoid the spiralling costs of housing associated with London and the south east, by instead placing people in cheaper places.
As a result huge numbers of people were - and still are - housed in some of Rochdale’s poorest areas while awaiting a Home Office decision.
In his letter at the start of this month, Mr Burnham warned ‘catastrophic failure’ loomed for the system unless ministers change those rules when a new contractor takes responsibility for dispersal next year.
In his response, Mr Javid accepts that a review of that approach is now needed.
Stressing that he wishes to ‘reiterate my personal thanks’ for the ‘continued contribution’ of areas such as Rochdale, he writes: “I am happy to commit my officials to work with you on the question of a more equitable distribution of supported asylum seekers and what this would look like in practice.
“This is part of a wider intent that from the start of the new contract onwards we will achieve a progressive reduction in the proportion of dispersal in the higher volume areas with a commensurate increase in the ratios in areas that currently have lower or nonexistent volumes.
“This represents a willingness on our part, on the basis of the strongly made case by you and other local politicians, to revisit the previous decision to roll forward the existing ratios.”
In doing so, more local authorities in other parts of the country would need to start accepting asylum seekers, he stresses.
Mr Javid also notes the concerns of local leaders not only in Rochdale but other areas including Yorkshire and Liverpool - that no extra funding is provided to support people seeking asylum once they are housed, despite them often being particularly vulnerable and having little English.
Giving evidence on the issue to the home affairs select committee in Westminster, Mr Burnham who had issued his letter jointly with Greater Manchester’s council leaders at the start of November - welcomed the response.
He said the region had a ‘long tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution,’ but stressed local authorities needed more of a say in the new asylum contract, due to come in next year.
“We believe that to continue to carry on to play the role we have played as we want to do, we have to have fairness from the Home Office,” he said.
“If we don’t have that, we would have to seriously consider our position.
“If we are to maintain public support, it can only be done by having a voice and a role for local authorities.”
Up until now, the Home Office had insisted the new contract would simply continue in the same vein as previously, he noted, calling that approach ‘fundamentally unacceptable.’
●●The Freehold Estate in Rochdale