Thanet council’s Ash Ashbee is among 14 authority leaders in Kent and Medway to sign a letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman setting out “ significant concerns regarding the current situation within Home Office’s strategic sites in the county and the Department’s plans to secure further adult asylum dispersal accommodation (in Kent).”
The district, borough, Medway and county council leaders say they are “astounded” to find out that the Home Office is ‘allocating’ Kent & Medway an additional 1,300 adults to accommodate by December 2023.
They say this figure has been reached because the Home Office says Kent and Medway currently only has 326 adults in asylum dispersal accommodation and lower than regional and national averages per head of the population.
Leaders say Kent’s real position has been “entirely disregarded.”
The letter states: “Kent remains the local authority with the greatest number of new arrivals coming into our care. As of today, we have 495 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children under-18 in our care, of whom 346 will be permanently remaining with us under the 0.1% NTS and a further 120 who are awaiting transfer in our Reception and Safe care service or are missing. In addition, we are supporting 1,061 UASC care leavers, which make up more than half of all care leavers in Kent.
“In November 2019, Home Office colleagues assured Kent’s Leaders that they recognised the exceptional pressures we are facing and would exempt Kent from accommodating adults. Only 10 months later we were notified without consultation that Napier Barracks in the district of Folkestone & Hythe had been temporarily leased ‘for only a year’ to provide emergency capacity in the adult asylum system, but that this would have ‘minimal impact’ on local services.
“The site accommodates 308 single males and is now leased until at least 2026 and has been a significant draw on local resource including the management of large covid outbreaks, safeguarding, health services, public disorder, a riot and a fire.
“In any other county, the burden of Napier would have been difficult enough. However, there are a further two hotels in the district of Folkestone & Hythe alone accommodating 139 UASC, and across Kent we are supporting thousands of service users over multiple sites.”
The council leaders say there are already three large Afghan bridging hotels, Home Office’s two directly run UASC hotels, a large strategic site at Manston intended for processing only but now accommodating service users, and as of this week, another adult asylum hotel in Ashford.
They add: “Kent & Medway’s Leaders are clear. We reject that calculation in the strongest possible terms. We can only conclude that officers are either working in silos and unaware of the high profile and supportive role Kent has played over many years and the cumulative burden and impact on local services and residents this has had, or worse have misinterpreted the datasets to come to a pre-determined conclusion.
“Put simply, Kent is at breaking point. Our public services including health social care and schools are already under extreme pressure from surging local demand and the cost-of-living crisis. We have approaching 20,000 households on the waiting list for social housing, soaring costs and limited availability of private-rented sector and temporary accommodation, all fuelled by being in the expensive south-east London periphery whilst having pockets of severe deprivation and low average earnings.
“Kent’s housing sector cannot absorb further asylum placements on top of these existing burdens over and above local demand.”
The council leaders say strategic sites being procured are often unsuitable and put in place with no consultation and no input from councils.
Raising the issue of the Manston centre, the letter states: “We have had outbreaks of Shigella, Coronavirus, Diphtheria, Scabies and Hepatitis, some only detected after service users have been moved on, raising questions about screening and outbreak management.
“We have hundreds of mostly Albanian service users not claiming asylum and being bailed and dropped at mid-Kent train stations with no follow up where they go or if they leave Kent. This again on a site that we were assured would be a rapid processing centre with a capacity of 1,500, that would never accommodate service users for more than 48 hours, where no-one would be able to leave, in a rural village location with few amenities, and service users being easily identifiable.
“The growing number of children being housed with their families alongside single adult men at Manston increases the likelihood of safeguarding concerns arising which will need to be investigated and responded to by local Kent County Council and Kent Police services.”
‘Far right activity’
Leaders claim that the increase of asylum facilities in Kent and Medway is mirrored by an increase of incidents of Far-Right activity, highlighting the petrol bombing incident at the Dover site last weekend.
The letter adds: “We are deeply concerned about the potential for a further outbreak of disorder and the risk this could pose to both service users and the local community.
“Kent & Medway’s Leaders demand that Home Office and associated Government Departments stop using the county as an easy fix for what is a national, strategic issue.
“We urge that Home Office recognises the enormous contribution that Kent & Medway has made and refrain from continuing to allocate further adult asylum quotas to the county and cease procurement of further hotel accommodation.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who seek asylum and require accommodation has reached record levels, placing unprecedented pressures on the asylum system.
“The Government is working with all local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to provide more suitable accommodation for asylum seekers and to end the unacceptable use of hotels, with more than £21 million in grant funding already been provided to local authorities to help them respond to challenges in their area.”
The Home Office says all local authority areas in England, Scotland and Wales became an asylum dispersal area by default on 13 April 2022. Officials say the shift to ‘Full Dispersal’ will increase the number of suitable properties that can be procured for ‘destitute asylum seekers.’
The changes to asylum dispersal have been backed by extra government funding. More than £21million in un-ringfenced grant funding has been committed to make sure eligible LAs can provide wraparound support locally.
Local authorities will also receive £3,500 for each new accommodation bed dispersal accommodation in the 22/23 financial year (1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023)
The Home Office adds: “Manston remains resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible. We are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation during this challenging time.”
Officials say the Home Office engages with councils as soon as possible when using sites for asylum accommodation.
They add: “There are currently more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6 million a day. The cost of accommodating Afghans in bridging hotels is £1.2million a day.
“Hotels are a short-term solution to the global migration crisis and we are working hard to find appropriate dispersed accommodation for migrants, asylum seekers and Afghan refugees as soon as possible. We would urge local authorities to do all they can to help house people.”
A protest by campaigners, including SOAS Detainee Support members, has been organised to take place in Manston at 7pm. Protesters, who say the centre should be shut down due to the conditions, will meet at the Spitfire Museum car park.