Town’s ul­ti­ma­tum over asy­lum seek­ers ‘chaos’

Rochdale Observer - - NOSTALGIA -

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.’

Sean Hans­ford

●●The Free­hold Es­tate in Rochdale

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