Labour councillors in Cambridgeshire attacked the Home Office for being more concerned with “gimmicks like the costly and unsuccessful Rwanda plan” rather than adopting “pragmatic policies” such as hiring more caseworkers, speeding up claims and tackling criminal gangs exploiting asylum seekers.
Cllr Alex Bulat, Labour county councillor and migrant champion, said: ““Asylum seekers want to learn English, work, integrate and have a normal life in the UK like everyone else.
“When I visited one of the hotels in Cambridgeshire, I saw a group of men who were keen to learn and contribute to society, but without the right to work, the activities they can do, including practicing the English they learn, are limited.
“The Home Office seems to be more concerned with gimmicks like the costly and unsuccessful Rwanda plan rather than pragmatic policies hiring more caseworkers and speeding up claims, while tackling criminal gangs exploiting asylum seekers.”
She added: “While we are celebrating our Libraries of Sanctuary award (given to Cambridgeshire libraries for demonstrating hospitality, solidarity and welcome to new arrivals) and the great work of our partners locally to provide welcome to new residents, it is disappointing to see the Government once again seeming to prioritise the general election electoral cycle over long-term integration solutions.”
Cambridgeshire Labour were reacting to the Home Office’s plans to close 50 asylum hotels across the UK and the decision by the Home Office to terminate the contracts with the hotels used for hosting asylum seekers in St Ives and Wisbech. (A third hotel, The Great Northern Hotel, Peterborough, which comes under Peterborough City Council, a separate unitary authority to Cambridgeshire, is also on the list).
Cambridgeshire Labour says the consensus of opinion across the media was that the Government’s decision to stop using 100 asylum seeker hotels “in key battleground seats” was a bid by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to improve Conservative general election prospects in those areas “alleviating assumed public concerns about the ability of Government to respond effectively to small boat crossings”.
A statement from Cambridgeshire Labour adds: “We do not know yet where the individual asylum seekers will be moved. Possibilities include dispersal accommodation, disused military sites, the infamous Bibby Stockholm, and barracks which the Home Office official guidance even recognises is unsuitable for people with significant mental and physical health needs – which many asylum seekers have as a consequence of fleeing war and persecution.
“It is important to note that the majority of asylum claims in the UK are accepted. Once an asylum seeker has refugee status, they have the right to work.
“The reality is asylum seekers have been waiting for much longer than the usual 6 months the Home Office aims for their applications service standard. The asylum backlog is in the tens of thousands and has been as high as 170,000 in the summer.
“Cambridgeshire residents rightly ask why asylum seekers are in hotels for such a long time. “Everyone wants to see quick asylum processing times and therefore the ability of those granted refugee status to work and support themselves, contributing economically and socially to Cambridgeshire.
“The reality is many are waiting for over 6 months for the Home Office to make a decision, while they do not have the right to work and thus relying on this temporary accommodation.”
Cllr Elisa Meschini, Labour group leader on Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Moving a small number of asylum seekers from Cambridgeshire to other authorities or to barges and barracks due to failures to process applications on time will not do anything to address the humanitarian crises and lack of safe and legal routes resulting in small boat crossings.
“What it can do is create more issues for local authorities already under intense financial pressures, especially on housing, increasing the risk of homelessness and destitution.”
David Landon Cole, interim secretary of Huntingdon Constituency Labour Party said: “Britain has a proud history of offering safe havens to the persecuted and of treating everyone humanely and with dignity. Unfortunately, we are now alternating between incompetence and performative cruelty.
“The result is vulnerable people being left to rot in unsuitable accommodation and local councils being given extra duties without extra funding. Britain is better than this”.
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