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Fenland fights No 10 bid to house asylum seekers

Fenland District Council signalled a head-on clash with Government over plans to house asylum seekers in March, Whittlesey, Chatteris, Wisbech and numerous villages.

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Fenland Council Cabinet meeting which decided to fight Government proposals for asylum seekers to be housed locally

Fenland District Council signalled a head-on clash with Government over plans to house asylum seekers in March, Whittlesey, Chatteris, Wisbech and numerous villages.

“I am absolutely sick and tired of government making stupid decisions and passing the problem down the line to people who didn’t make those stupid decisions,” Cllr Steve Tierney told Cabinet colleagues.

Cllr Jan French said that it was “very worrying if we are forced to take asylum seekers in Fenland”.

She said there was a great shortage of housing “and we need to be looking after our own people first”.

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Council leader Chris Boden said the new government proposals were “a matter of serious concern” and the impact on Fenland needed to be considered.

Cllr Boden suggested that a full dispersal scheme to all parts of the UK was proposed and “so long as you have 1,000 illegal immigrants coming across channel on a daily basis, we will be expected to take two every single day”

Cabinet heard of the potential financial and social implications of the Government’s Asylum Seeker Dispersal programme to the extent that it will relate to Fenland

Councillors were told that the Home Office has awarded a contract to Serco to manage “sundry asylum seeker related responsibilities” in the East of England.

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Serco has responsibility locally to manage the Home Office’s Asylum Seeker Dispersal Programme.

“Based on a full dispersal approach to allocations across the country, there will be a requirement to house asylum seekers in Fenland by the end of next year,” said a report to Cabinet.

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

“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”.

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

Councillors agreed for officers to estimate “the risks to FDC inherent in this policy” and to authorise representations to MP Steve Barclay and Prime Minister Liz Truss.

“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,” said the report.

Officers said Fenland does not contain the community support networks seen in cities such as Peterborough or Cambridge to provide social support for asylum seekers.

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“Fenland’s sub-standard and expensive public transport system would make access to such support networks very difficult if not impossible for asylum seekers,” the report said.

“FDC has been made aware that asylum seekers’ rights to accommodation, supplied by Serco, would be lost if their application for political asylum were to be unsuccessful together with any associated appeal.

“In that case, we are told, the asylum seeker concerned would be ‘signposted’ to repatriation facilities but could be left, potentially destitute, here in Fenland with no access to public funds.

“There is relatively tight, and increasingly expensive, private sector rented housing provision in Fenland. The impact of Serco’s plans on the private rented market are uncertain.”

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Any proposal requiring the allocation of asylum seekers within Fenland has the potential to restrict properties available for other people in need of accommodation, says the council.

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“It is possible that the consequential impact on supply could create further inflation in rents at a time when the cost of living is causing people to struggle,” said the report.

“There is a concern that the impact on housing supply for people already living in the area or wishing to relocate to Fenland may not have been adequately addressed.”

A major concern for FDC is that if people have their application for asylum rejected and are left without recourse to public funds.

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“It is possible that this could constitute a significant problem in Fenland,” councillors were told.

“It is unclear whether the potential impact this could have on the area and local public funds has been adequately assessed.”

Cabinet accepted officers’ recommendation that “Fenland District Council does not support the Asylum Seeker Dispersal Scheme.

“It is imperative that allocations consider the existing or any newly created community support structures appropriate for the nationality and culture of the asylum seekers themselves.

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“For example, it would be wholly inappropriate to place a practising Muslim asylum seeker in a property in a village with no access to a local asylum seekers’ support group, nor to an appropriate place of worship, nor to a shop selling Halal meat or foods with which they are familiar and with no practical means to afford public transport to access any such facilities.

“Until and unless the Government, and Serco, take into account the appropriateness of the locations where asylum seekers would be placed, the scheme remains fundamentally flawed and will be unsuccessful.”

The council agreed: “Government should be taking urgent additional action to stop illegal entry to the UK, to process asylum seekers’ applications far more expeditiously and to deport those people who have no right to remain in the UK.”

Cllr Sam Hoy said it was “frustrating” that the government had not consulted on the proposals.

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She said Fenland has a “real shortage” of housing, both social and private, and she wondered if Serco would be buying or renting properties.

Her biggest concern, however, was managing those asylum seekers “signposted to leave” and how this would be managed.

Cllr Hoy said that it was evident the government didn’t want to continue to use hotels but the “elephant in the room” remained that ministers had not got to grips with immigration.

Cllr Boden said there were many things the government could do including “getting the border sorted out and taking stronger action to deter and return people”.

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Processing needed to speed up and “to deport those with no right to be here

“And the government has to be more discriminating in where these asylum seekers will be dispersed to”.

He said it was “entirely inappropriate” for many to be dumped in villagers with no bus service or services to town.”

“Dumped in middle of nowhere is a recipe for absolute disaster not just for them but potentially for the local community,” he said.  

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Cllr Tierney said the government had put forward “the wrong policy and we should absolutely tell them”.

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