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It may be too little, too late as Fenland Council tries to stop asylum seekers

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Two months ago, Fenland Council rejected a legal challenge to stop asylum seekers being housed here – but today all that changed.

The council, despite previously turning down any thought of going to court, changed its mind.

But it may be too little, too late as the government reacts to the growing crisis of asylum seekers arriving.

It may be that Serco, the government contractor charged with finding homes, blindsided Fenland Council by telling them they were primarily looking for houses or flats.

But the council knew the scale of intent by Serco.

Rose and Crown, Wisbech

Council leader Chris Boden told his Cabinet members in September that on a “full dispersal” scheme proposed by the Government, Fenland would have to play its part.

“So long as you have 1,000 illegal immigrants coming across the channel on a daily basis, we will be expected to take two of every single day,” he said.

“That’s how that’s how the disposal would work and clearly that is a more than just a worrying prospect.”

He was responding at the time to news that the Home Office had awarded a contract to Serco to manage “sundry asylum seeker related responsibilities in the East of England”.

Cabinet was told there was a requirement to house asylum seekers in Fenland by the end of next year.

“Serco are expected exclusively or overwhelmingly to source accommodation for these asylum seekers from the private rented accommodation sector,” officers reported.

“If asylum seekers’ applications for asylum are unsuccessful, or they breach their conditions of stay in the UK as an asylum seeker, whilst the Government will signpost them towards repatriation, the asylum seeker will be left without recourse to public funds.

“This asylum seeker dispersal policy is being imposed upon Fenland District Council without our agreement.”

Cabinet debated a “high-level overview of the risks” and recommendations included representations to MP Steve Barclay.

Officers, however, accepted “there are no immediate legal implications requiring detailed consideration for the purpose of this report”.

Inside the Rose and Crown Hotel, Wisbech

Until today and following news that Serco was taking over the Rose and Crown, Wisbech, to house asylum seekers, the council began legal proceedings.

“The council was informed by Serco, the contractor which runs the Home Office’s asylum seeker operation, of its Rose and Crown plans late on Friday evening and has been working on its legal case over the weekend,” said a council spokesperson.

“The injunction is aimed at preventing the hotel from being used for this purpose.

“The change of the hotel to use as a hostel is a breach of planning law and the harm arising from such a breach is significant.

“Due to the substantial risk of harm, which is unable to be mitigated, and potential suffering of the asylum seekers, it said the hotel was a wholly unsuitable place to house vulnerable people.”

The council spokesperson added: “It is also disappointing that Serco failed to notify the council of its plans earlier to enable any form of discussions regarding locations to take place.”

Cllr Boden said today: “It is thoroughly irresponsible of the Home Office to consider placing vulnerable people with no recourse to public funding in a town such as Wisbech, without any consultation or any consideration of the impact this will have on the asylum seekers themselves.

“We are in a rural location, with very limited hotel accommodation and transport links, and we already have significant issues with migrant exploitation and human trafficking, which would put any people placed here at risk.”

At the Cabinet meeting, on September 5, Cllr Boden had demanded the government does more “to get the border sorted out”.

FDC Council leader Cllr Chris Boden (Conservative).

He wanted stronger action to deter people coming here and to process applications quicker, and “to deport those individuals who have no rights to be here”.

But it was where the government choose to house asylum seekers that concerned him most.

“It is entirely inappropriate for asylum seekers who may not have any English at all or who may not be of the same culture that the indigenous population for them to be dumped for example in a village with no bus service.

“And with no ability to get to any town where there may be services which may be appropriate for them”.

If they were simply “dumped in the middle of nowhere it is a recipe for absolute disaster not just for them but also potentially even for the local community”.

At the September meeting Cllr Sam Hoy, portfolio holder for housing, also expressed her concern.

“All councils are being made to take asylum seekers but it’s not right that we are not allowed to say no,” she said.

“It is very frustrating when government forces policy down on us particularly when they do not understand necessarily our needs and issues that are in Fenland area.

“We also have a real shortage of housing at the moment so where will these people go?”

She was also fearful that is asylum seekers failed residency status, there was the fear of them becoming rough sleepers.

“We don’t want people living in tents or on our streets not only does it look unsightly it isn’t good for them,” she said.

“It is not good for people’s health to be sleeping in a tent night after night, especially with winter coming.

“It is not how human beings should be living; it is not right, and I am also worried about future numbers to be honest.

“If we’re having this many by next year, how do we know it won’t be the same number the year after or more and the year after that.”

Cllr Hoy described immigration as “a bit of an elephant in the room” saying the government were not getting to grips with it.

She called for tougher resistance, claiming that if officials think you are “going to be a pushover, they will just push you over and walk all over you particularly when we have got cheap housing here.

“They’re going to think well great this is a good area let’s bring more people here.”

In September she told cabinet that West Midlands councils clubbed together and “took the government to a judicial review which they won – and that’s why the government have changed their policy now and gone for the full dispersal”.

At the time she called for a “watching brief” but be prepared to “be strong, if necessary, in the future”.

 

Cllr Steve Tierney told the September meeting: “I agree with what councillor Hoy said and I would go further.

“I am absolutely sick and tired of the government making stupid decisions and then passing the problem down the line to people who did not make those stupid decisions.

“People say to me all the time why we are allowing up to a thousand people a day just rocking up on boats.

“We do not know who they are we do not know their background we do not know anything about them why are we allowing that to happen.

“People are frustrated with seeing them put up in hotels and lots of money in front of them when people here are not getting lots of money thrown at them.

“A lot of people are really struggling, and things are getting harder, and the harder things get, the angrier people are going to get, and that anger will be directed fairly or unfairly at these newcomers.

“It’s a recipe for unhappiness and it’s a recipe for difficulties; it’s just a bad it’s a bad policy overall.”

 

He added: “I think we all will expect that a fair number of them, possibly a majority of them, are economic migrants; they are people who are coming here for a better way of life better than wherever they come from.

“I’ve got no problem with that I would probably do the same thing, but I’ve got to think about our home we have to think about our home and for that reason there’s a limit to how much help we can keep extending day after day after day without impacting our own people.”

 

Today’s statement from Fenland Council added: “The change of the Rose and Crown to use as a hostel is a breach of planning law and the harm arising from such a breach is significant.

“Due to the substantial risk of harm, which is unable to be mitigated, and potential suffering of the asylum seekers, the hotel is a wholly unsuitable place to house vulnerable people.

“It is also disappointing that Serco failed to notify the Council of its plans earlier to enable any form of discussions regarding locations to take place.”

The council’s tough stance comes after CambsNewsOnline reported – exclusively – that the Rose & Crown Hotel in the town suddenly closed its doors last Friday.

As has now been confirmed, the hotel’s new owner, the H & H group run by 32-year-old Hassan Mohamed Hassan Arif, has secured a deal to use the hotel for asylum seekers.

 

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