Author: Stuart Minting, Local Democracy Reporter
Councillors have put on hold plans to move asylum seekers into a picturesque part of North Yorkshire amid concerns over terrorism, cost and the lack of a mosque.
Hambleton Council has been asked to consider taking on people applying for refugee status as the Government tries to distribute them more evenly across the country
Cabinet members were told in an officers’ report that indirect costs – such as staff time – to the council could be in the region of £4,000 for each asylum seeker.
However after hearing this several members raised concerns over the matter.
Its planning and housing boss, Councillor David Webster, told the authority’s Cabinet he had numerous “misgivings” over the request which came shortly after the anniversaries of the Manchester Arena bombing and the Westminster Bridge and Borough Market terrorist attacks.
He said: “Yesterday the Home Secretary announced further increases to measures to counteract terrorism. So, my main concern is with the security issue and I feel that we must undertake a fair number of exercises to ensure there are no terrorism risks with this process.
“What provision will be made to ensure no radicalisation has taken place of the people who are to be placed and housed in Hambleton? Will constant monitoring regarding radicalisation be undertaken?”
Other councillors questioned whether the authority could afford to take asylum seekers.
Councillor John Noone added: “It is a strange thing to have to have this lot parachuted in to this area. Possibly £4,000 per person. When you think of that amount of money that could be spent on our own people here in Hambleton it’s quite a big ask really.
“We need more clarification on who we are talking about. I don’t think it’s a problem taking people in who desperately need help. That’s a fair comment.”
The authority’s chief executive, Dr Justin Ives, also emphasised concerns that there would be no provision for Muslim asylum seekers to exercise their religious freedoms in the district as there are no mosques.
He added: “Cabinet are not saying all asylum seekers are terrorists. Absolutely not. What they are concerned is the possibility that some of those people entering the UK are being radicalised whilst being in their country of origin.”
The call for North Yorkshire local authorities to take on asylum seekers comes as the Government tries to share out the dispersal of asylum seekers more fairly between wealthy and poorer areas.
While many North-east local authorities, along with all those in South and West Yorkshire, have been acting as dispersal areas for years – working with G4S to provide accommodation for asylum seekers – none in North Yorkshire have done so.
And analysis of Home Office data has shown there are more than five times as many asylum seekers living in the poorest third of the country as in the richest third, leading MPs to call for an overhaul of the dispersal system.
Government home affairs select committee chairman Yvette Cooper has described the focus on housing asylum seekers in urban areas such as Leeds and Middlesbrough as “a deeply unfair shambles”.
In response to the Government request, York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Housing Board has agreed a proposal, subject to agreement of district councils, that the county will take up to 50 asylum seekers over two years and that no more than 20 will be placed in any single district.
Hambleton is the first authority in the county to consider the Government request as to whether it will participate as a ‘dispersal area’ for people who are seeking refugee status in the UK.
However, council members agreed the district should not commit to taking asylum seekers until their questions had been answered.