Home Office issues letters withdrawing plan to move asylum seekers from Margate to Bibby Stockholm

Campaigners held a celebration last night Photo Carl Hudson

The Home Office has issued letters to 15 asylum seekers currently staying at a Cliftonville hotel to confirm they will not now be sent to the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset.

However, the letter – seen by The Isle of Thanet News- does say the department reserves the right to relocate the asylum seekers to Bibby Stockholm or anther asylum site in the future.

The letters follow demonstrations on April 24th and 25th  where Margate Mayor Cllr Rob Yates and members of the community persuaded two coach drivers sent by the Home Office to leave empty handed as they tried to move 22 asylum seekers from Margate to the barge – previously reported by The Isle of Thanet News.

Organisers had set up an online forum to alert the group of activists should a coach arrive, with a separate chat to share resources and additional support, joined by some 300 volunteers.

Twenty-two young men at the hotel had been on notice that they were being moved to the asylum barge.

The affected men have been in Margate for seven months and have been involved in the community through volunteering at foodbanks, joining Margate parkrun, digging weeds at community gardens, cooking at local chef schools, and working at local Pilgrims Hospice charity shops.

The action, which activists have tagged ‘The Margate Model,’ prompted the U-turn with 15 letters received and another four expected. Three men left the hotel prior to letters being sent, making themselves ‘voluntarily’ homeless.

Last night (May 2) campaigners gathered at the Kings Steps in Margate to celebrate the withdrawal notices.

Among them was Aram Rawf who is the Community Inclusion Officer at the Samphire Project and a former asylum seeker.

Aram arrived in the UK as a 17-year-old after fleeing Iraq in the back of a lorry. More than twenty years later Aram is a British citizen, a former Thanet councillor, a volunteer and a campaigner.

Aram (holding placard) Photo Carl Hudson

He said: “Our community came together on very short notice with big help from the Mayor of Margate to save these humans from the Home Office move to the barge. They have already given a lot of time back to the community by volunteering in local groups and charities.

“About six months ago, we created a Welcome to Margate event for the newly arrived men and I shared with them how back in 2006 the community came together to save me from deportation. I’m sure they’ll always remember how our community supported them. I can’t thank our community enough for peacefully supporting these humans.”

Photo Carl Hudson

Franca Pauli runs 101 Social, a kitchen and a social space for the Cliftonville community.

Most of the 101 staff work on a volunteering basis and the majority have a background of migration and displacement.  About a dozen of them are from the group at the hotel.

Franca said: “They were all welcomed with open arms by the community since day one, and immediately began contributing their skills, especially cooking skills, and their respectful, friendly and fun presence from the start.

“They made new friends and brought a significant benefit to our activities at 101 Social and to the community at large, especially through their massive help at the weekly soup kitchen, serving 100+ free freshly cooked meals every Sunday, no matter the weather.

“We should not underestimate the fact that we are mostly serving vulnerable residents living locally who, also thanks to them, can count on a rich and healthy free meal weekly, not even counting  the meals they take away with them for the week to come, plus a safe a comfortable space to hang out, and kind and friendly interactions and new friendships.

“We are devastated to hear about the very real risk of them being removed from our community and from their new home, with the even greater risk of being deported to Rwanda.

“We are 100% willing and ready to vouch for them and to do whatever we can to help them continue to lead the productive life they have started in Margate because they are members of our beloved community.”

County Counillor Barry Lewis and Margate mayor-elect Jack Packman Photo Carl Hudson

Margate resident Derek Harding has been organising weekly football sessions for the men and said the Home Office threat hanging over them created much uncertainty and anxiety while Kent Refugee Action Network CEO Dr Razia Shariff added: “Our teaching staff got to know the men over the last few months; got to know their challenges, dreams, hopes and ambitions.

“In the cruellest way, these were all suddenly threatened, but the community – lead by Mayor Cllr Yates – stepped in to protect their own.”

The action has also been backed by Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, who praised ‘the compassion’ of the community.

Mayor Rob Yates and Cllr Lewis

Cllr Yates said the peaceful protest was a demonstration of welcome and diversity.

He added: “My message to the government is please let asylum seekers have the option to stay in one community until their asylum claims are processed. End the cruel dispersal operation that moves guests every few months, this destroys communities, rather than helps create them.

“The men at our hotel, who are living two strangers to a room have been contributing to our local community for the last 7 months, and as you can tell, we are all very happy that the home office have agreed to let them stay.”

The Bibby Stockholm has a capacity of about 500 residents. Asylum interviews take place on board the barge and Dorset Council has an agreement with the Home Office that barge residents being granted asylum are moved to other parts of the UK.

Home Office

The Home Office, which began its operation this week of detaining people for relocation to Rwanda, said: ““Hotel accommodation, which currently costs £8 million a day, has always been intended as a temporary solution to ensure the Home Office meets the statutory obligation to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute during a period of unprecedented numbers of small boat arrivals.

“We continue to deliver our plans to significantly reduce the use of asylum hotels, closing 150 by beginning of May.”

The Home Office says accommodation is allocated on a no-choice basis and individuals may be moved to other locations. Residents currently in hotels that the Home Office will be exiting will be moving to other parts of the asylum estate.

The operation to detain people for ‘relocation’ is part of the plan to deliver flights to Rwanda in the next 9 to 11 weeks.

James Cleverly Picture by Lauren Hurley / No 10 Downing Street <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3>, via Wikimedia Commons

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: ”Our dedicated enforcement teams are working at pace to swiftly detain those who have no right to be here so we can get flights off the ground.

“This is a complex piece of work, but we remain absolutely committed to operationalising the policy, to stop the boats and break the business model of people smuggling gangs.”

The Home Office has increased detention capacity to more than 2,200 detention spaces, trained 200 new caseworkers and has 500 escorts ready.

Commercial charters have been booked and an airport has been put on standby.