Falkirk Council could have to find homes for asylum seekers if hotel use ended

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Asylum seekers in Falkirk face an uncertain future following an announcement that the UK Government hopes to ‘exit’ asylum seekers from 50 hotels by January.

Councils across the UK, including Glasgow, have expressed concern at Home Office plans to ‘streamline’ asylum applications, which they say will simply pass the financial burden on to councils.

Glasgow city council leader Susan Aitken claimed in a letter to the Secretary for State for Scotland, that this could lead to a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

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With all council budgets under massive pressure and social housing at capacity, she and others say “streamlining” applications will lead to people being accommodated in emergency shelters or even sleeping rough.

Uncertainty remains over the future of accommodation for asylum seekers as the UK Government plans to cut hotel use. Pic: Getty ImagesUncertainty remains over the future of accommodation for asylum seekers as the UK Government plans to cut hotel use. Pic: Getty Images
Uncertainty remains over the future of accommodation for asylum seekers as the UK Government plans to cut hotel use. Pic: Getty Images

So what could that mean in Falkirk where more than 40 asylum seekers are in hotel accommodation?

The Falkirk hotel currently being used is not among the 50 that will close and Falkirk Council has not been given any indication that this will happen any time soon.

The UK Government says it is managing to clear the hotels for several reasons: the number of small boats making the crossing has fallen in recent months; it plans to use other accommodation such as barges; and it says it is “making better use of sites in the current asylum estate”.

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The latter means that many asylum seekers will now have to share hotel rooms with strangers as they wait for their applications to be processed. It is understood that this is now beginning to happen in Falkirk, leading to concerns about the mental health of those who are already struggling with long waits and ongoing uncertainty.

A charity that offers support to all newcomers to Falkirk – including asylum seekers – says it would welcome the process speeding up and decisions being made. But Friends of Scottish Settlers (FOSS) are also aware that giving people just a few days to find accommodation is “unthinkable”.

Volunteer and partnership manager Sarah Stewart said: “Firstly, we are delighted that people are getting decisions. One of the most brutal aspects of the asylum system is how the endless waiting makes all the other indignities so much more difficult to bear.”

But she is worried that systems are not in place to help people quickly enough.

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“It’s unthinkable actually – I don’t know how we would cope,” she said.

Her charity works closely with Central Scotland Regional Equality Council (CSREC) and the Scottish Refugee Council, which has also spoken out about the crisis. They would like to see more clarity about what will happen and better information for everyone.

It is now two years since a Falkirk hotel was first used to house asylum seekers by the UK Government and while there has been some movement, many of the men have been there for many months, some for well over a year.

Sarah says the volunteers trying to help are painfully aware of the lack of support the men have had in that time. They are not allowed to work, they have no money to travel and there is little funding even for English lessons that would help them prepare for the future.

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Sarah says that ‘warehousing people’ while they wait for their asylum claim to be processed has “made the problem so much worse”.

“People who could do a job quite happily are just trapped in limbo and it destroys their mental health,” she said.

She is concerned that without proper information, councils are unable to prepare. The situation is Glasgow is especially worrying as many of those living in Falkirk, who are granted permission to stay in Scotland, will move to the city to find work.

Sarah said: “We really struggle to handle this as it is in the moment so what will happen if people go to Glasgow and there is nowhere for them?”

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The backlog is costing the UK an estimated £8 million a day and the UK Government is desperate to reduce the amount being spent.

The Home Office says stopping the use of hotels is just one part of the government’s wider efforts to tackle illegal migration.

It promises to “work closely with accommodation providers and local authorities to manage the exit process in a way which limits the impact on partners and service users alike”.

Falkirk Council say that they have not been told that anything will change at the moment.

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Councillor Gary Bouse, spokesperson for housing and communities, said: “As we have not received any recent information from the Home Office regarding this matter, we are working on the basis that UK Government will continue to have the responsibility to provide contingency and dispersed accommodation for asylum seekers who have not yet had a decision on their application.

“The council will be potentially impacted when a positive decision is made and an individual is awarded the right to remain. They will have the right to access housing and homelessness services in line with the same rights as Ukrainian refugees.

“To try and minimise any impact locally we have been working closely with the contractor Mears to ensure that we have as much advance information on decisions for the individuals as possible.”