Hargey writes to executive office over fears of hosting asylum seekers

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has written to the Executive Office about inappropriate accommodation for asylum seekers in Northern Ireland.

It comes after concerns were raised about the growing number of asylum seekers living in hotels here, some for long periods.

In June 2021, only 14 asylum seekers were staying in hotels in Northern Ireland. By December, that figure had risen to 807. By April of this year, it had risen to 1,067.

Government policy states that asylum seekers should not stay in these conditions for longer than six weeks. However, some families here have spent more than six months in often cramped hotels.

Amnesty International and others have already criticized the situation in Northern Ireland and called for action.

Private company Mears Group has been responsible for arranging accommodation for asylum seekers in the UK since 2019, having signed a £113million contract with the Home Office which runs until August 2029.

Ms Hargey was asked what representations she was making to the Home Office regarding improved accommodation for asylum seekers.

She replied: “Issues relating to immigration, including the accommodation and support of asylum seekers, are excluded matters and do not fall within the competence of my service. The Ministry of the Interior is operationally and politically responsible for these issues.

“I have written to the Permanent Secretary of the Executive Office to advise him of the concerns which have been brought to my attention and to inquire about the approach currently being taken by Mears, the local Home Office contractor, to finding a appropriate accommodation for asylum seekers.”

SDLP Communities spokesman Mark H Durkan said not enough was being done to highlight the plight of asylum seekers currently living in Northern Ireland in “unacceptable” conditions.

“Many have been stuck in hotels for more than six months, despite government policy stating that hotels should only be used as a temporary measure for up to six weeks,” he said.

“People are forced to live in cramped conditions and follow strict rules, with little access to facilities and no homes of their own.

“It is not surprising that living in such conditions has a profound impact on the mental health of asylum seekers.

“These conditions make it incredibly difficult for people to adjust to life in their new country. Many families struggle to find school places for their children, as restrictive laws prevent asylum seekers from finding work.

“The blame for this lies with the Home Office and the cruel approach this UK government has taken towards people fleeing war and oppression, but that does not mean the executive can pass the buck , as he tried to do on several occasions when contacted about these issues.

“We must see a joint approach at all levels to deliver the best results for asylum seekers and we will continue to fight to highlight the current situation and push for change.”

The Home Office said: ‘The accommodation system for asylum seekers is under enormous pressure due to the increase in dangerous small boat crossings, which is why our new plan for immigration targets smugglers and will expedite the removal of those who have no right to be here.

“The new fairer asylum dispersal model will also reduce hotel use, which costs taxpayers almost £5million a day.

“We are working with partners across Northern Ireland to support the purchase of accommodation, including funding to develop appropriate infrastructure to support asylum seekers there.”

The Mears Group said: ‘Due to an increase in the number of people seeking asylum, hotels are being used as emergency accommodation by the Home Office across the UK, including in Northern Ireland. North, where Mears’ role, as a contractor to the Home Office, is to ensure that as soon as someone applies for asylum, they are immediately found a safe place to live and food and support.

“The use of hotels is only an emergency measure to meet the current need for accommodation. Mears will continue to do everything in our power to end the use of hotels and to do this we are working closely with all authorities and agencies in Northern Ireland to find the amount of suitable new accommodation needed. to ensure that our service users are found. a house in the community.

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