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'Swathes' of Britain not accommodating asylum seekers, MPs reveal

Ministers must call on more areas to house asylum seekers as Britain faces unprecedented demand for accommodation, MPs have said.

The system for allocating housing was labelled "unfair" with the majority moved into urban zones while "whole swathes" of the country receive none.

Under the 'dispersal' scheme, councils sign up voluntarily to house asylum seekers.

A report by the Commons Home Affairs Committee said contractors had reported difficulties in finding enough accommodation.

It added: " Local authorities who have very few, and in many instances no, asylum seekers should be actively encouraged by Ministers to volunteer in the existing scheme."

Committee Chairman Keith Vaz singled out areas including Maidenhead in Berkshire, where Home Secretary Theresa May is MP.

He said: "The dispersal system appears unfair, with whole swathes of the country never receiving a single asylum seeker.

"The majority are being moved into low-cost housing in urban areas such as Glasgow, Stoke, Cardiff and of course Middlesbrough, where the ratio is 1 asylum seeker per 137 people.

"However, on the data we have received, local authorities in areas such as Maidenhead, Lincoln and Warwick have housed none."

Mr Vaz said Britain may need to house as many as 50,000 asylum seekers by 2017.

Last month Immigration Minister James Brokenshire told the committee the Government is looking to expand the number of local authorities designated as dispersal areas.

The committee's wide-ranging report also said it was "clearly wrong" that accommodation for asylum seekers in Middlesbrough had doors that were painted a "predominant colour".

A furore erupted earlier this year after claims refugees living in the town were housed in properties with red doors.

There was also controversy when it emerged that asylum seekers in Cardiff had to wear coloured wristbands in order to receive meals.

The committee welcomed moves to repaint the doors and end the use of wristbands.

Mr Vaz said: "The compulsory wearing of wrist bands and the infamous red doors demonstrate an unacceptable attitude towards vulnerable people."

The committee called for the closure of the Cedars facility close to Gatwick Airport, which provides pre-departure accommodation for families being removed from the UK.

Described as "palatial", last year the centre was forecast to cost the Home Office £6.4 million - but only accommodated 14 families in the first nine months of 2014/15.

The report said: " We regard the existing level of expenditure per detainee at this facility as outrageous and unsustainable."

Dr Lisa Doyle, of charity the Refugee Council, said: "The Government clearly needs to re-evaluate the way it houses asylum seekers.

"It's an issue of vital importance: we're talking about the way we as a country look after the comparatively small number of people who have fled war, rape and persecution and have come here seeking safety.

"It shouldn't be beyond us to find appropriate accommodation in sufficient numbers across the UK."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered.

"With the support of local government, we are proactively engaging with areas that to date have not participated in asylum dispersal with a view to negotiating voluntary agreements to do so.

"The Home Office has worked closely with our providers to improve property standards over the lifetime of the COMPASS contract.

"Where a contractor is found to be falling short of these standards, we work with them to ensure issues are quickly addressed. When they are not we can and do impose sanctions.

"All suppliers are meeting the contractual requirements to provide safe, habitable, fit for purpose and correctly equipped accommodation in compliance with the Housing Act 2004 and the Decent Homes Standard."


From Belfast Telegraph