A decision to refuse housing in the north east of England to some asylum seekers has been labelled “dangerous” by the head of a leading refugee agency.
The Home Office struck a deal with local authorities not to house asylum seekers with “known criminality” in the area.
It comes after Labour MP for Sunderland Central Julie Elliott wrote to the government asking for a complete ban on housing for new asylum seekers.
Julian Prior, chief executive of local refugee charity Action Foundation, told Socialist Worker that it was “deeply unfair” to blame immigrants for what some MPs have referred to as “tensions” in the area.
As far right and fascist forces whipped up a campaign alleging that migrants had sexually assaulted people in Sunderland, Elliott asked for a complete halt to housing asylum seekers “in light of the current tensions in the city”.
The letter—backed by the leaders of the Labour controlled council—was welcomed by the racists. It fuelled the scapegoating of refugees which, as Prior pointed out, can make life for migrants less safe.
“When things are whipped up it divides people,” he said.
“Certainly our experience of working with people is that they feel frightened quite often.
“We’ve had incidents where people feel that they’ve been targeted for no particular reason.”
As well as blaming asylum seekers for sexual assaults, Elliott had also given credence to the idea that asylum seekers are to blame for crime or “antisocial behaviour”.
Deputy council leader Michael Mordey had also written to the Home Office after a meeting with residents. He said they were concerned about “general anti?social behaviour, environmental concerns and perceptions that a high number of asylum seekers were residing in the area”.
At the time, only 271 asylum seekers were living in the whole of Sunderland.
Prior said it was “deeply unfair” to simply blame migrants. “Sunderland has been a very deprived city, so competition for resources is challenging,” he said.
“The kind of accommodation that refugees are housed in during their asylum claims—government contracted housing—is basic to say the least.
“The resources that asylum seekers are provided with doesn’t disadvantage local residents.”
Rather than limiting help for asylum seekers, Prior said governments, politicians and councils had to find ways to help migrants find work and a safe place to live.
“Some of the challenges are around poor policy rather than asylum seekers getting all the best of things,” he said.
“The difficulty of new refugees to move on and contribute is created by government policy.”