Immigration issues are difficult to handle and finding an effective
way of coping with thousands of asylum seekers is a challenging
task. But the muddled approach adopted by the home secretary this
week has aggravated these difficulties. David Blunkett has accused
the immigration and nationality directorate of being incompetent
over plans to use a hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent, to house newly
arrived asylum seekers. The local MP was not informed and the local
council, Swale, was ignored when it raised concerns about the
security arrangements concerning the hotel.
Blunkett has ordered a review of the performance of the National
Asylum Support Service, which has been beset with problems
especially since it announced that asylum seekers would be
dispersed around the country.
In Kent, where the council has responsibility for looking after
2,400 unaccompanied children and 4,000 families, the problem is
acute and the burden on its budgets massive. The local authority
was told the dispersal scheme would ease the problems, but that has
not materialised, and social services director Peter Gilroy is
right to be sceptical when he is told the new centre in
Sittingbourne will be temporary.
Plans for new reception centres in different parts of the country
have run into the sand in the face of fierce opposition from
neighbouring communities, and the hotel plan appears to be a panic
This crisis is made much worse by a media campaign against asylum
seekers, with the Daily Mail especially culpable. This has
fuelled hostility towards “foreigners who are all terrorists”. The
charges against an asylum seeker for the murder of policeman
Stephen Oake in Manchester seems to have taken the hatred, and it
is that, to a new level.
The government could do much more to help. Instead of trying to
please the Daily Mail readership by taking a hard line
against asylum seekers, ministers could help by putting over a
balanced view. Communities need to be shown that the overwhelming
majority of asylum seekers are not here to cause trouble but
because they want a better life. Can we blame them for that?