Council calls for asylum seeker help

RURAL councils in Suffolk are being urged to “accept their responsibilities” and take a fair share of the 800 asylum seekers due to be dispersed in East Anglia.

By Graham Dines

RURAL councils in Suffolk are being urged to “accept their responsibilities” and take a fair share of the 800 asylum seekers due to be dispersed in East Anglia.

As Ipswich prepares to house a further 30 successful applicants, council leaders have launched an attack on neighbouring authorities.

And they have criticised the “failed leadership” of the East of England Regional Assembly, which they claim has not encouraged all authorities to follow the borough's example.

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Eileen Smith, the portfolio holder for housing and strategy, said it was time for councils in Suffolk “to take the strain.”

Mrs Smith said: “Ipswich is under severe pressure to provide housing for all those who need and it would be grossly unfair on asylum seekers and their families if the borough doesn't have the facilities to look after them properly.”

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The borough has promised to house 30 of them but will tonight call on neighbouring authorities to join it in an initiative that would allow refugees to access support and public services

Council leader Liz Harsant said she couldn't understand why Ipswich was met by “blank stares” by other councils when asked to take some asylum seekers in their main towns.

“It's time Woodbridge, Stowmarket, and Hadleigh accepted half a dozen or so of these people,” she added.

“If they won't, then at least they should give Ipswich nomination rights to social housing in their areas so that the burden does not fall on the borough, which has a chronic housing shortage.”

The plan being considered by the borough council's ruling executive committee tonight is “core and cluster” under which Ipswich would act as a core for accepting asylum seekers and provide services which could be accessed by public transport.

After accepting 30 individuals, Ipswich would then ask neighbouring - cluster - councils to share the burden.

A similar model could be adopted in the Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft-Great Yarmouth areas.

Mrs Harsant said: “Since 2000, Ipswich has rightly accepted that it should play its part in accepting refugees and asylum seekers.

“But with the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) indicating East Anglia should take an extra 800, the time has come for all local authorities to shoulder the responsibility.

“If we take 30, that leaves 770 and we do not believe they can be accommodated in the existing cluster areas of Peterborough and Norwich.”

Mrs Harsant added that she wanted the NASS to carry out a full assessment of Ipswich's housing problems as part of the dispersal programme.

The regional reaction to the request to accommodate successful asylum applicants is being handled by the Regional Assembly.

But Ipswich Borough Council says: “In our view, EERA has failed, in its leadership responsibilities, to ensure a truly regional response, mainly through a failure to engage adequately with the full range of local authorities in the region.”

Chris Slemmings, the Deputy Leader of Suffolk Coastal, denied his authority had shut the door on asylum seekers.

He added: “However, we have the same problem as all other councils - there is not enough affordable homes for our own people.

“It's essential to have support measures in place and it might well be that we offer to take people off the Ipswich housing register to allow the borough to house immigrants.”

Chris Foti, Babergh's Head of Housing at Hadleigh-based Babergh district said: “Babergh, along with all other Suffolk district councils, has received a request from Ipswich borough about housing a number of its successful asylum applicants.

“We are currently considering the issue our councillors will have a chance to

debate the matter in August, with a final decision likely in September.”

A spokesman for the Home Office, which handles media inquiries for NASS, said it would not be appropriate to comment on Ipswich's position.

Brian Stewart, chief executive of EERA, said last night: “There has been a wide ranging consultation in the whole region.

“We certainly have not failed to provide leadership in the county.

“We think we have set a good example by trying to deal with a sensitive issue in a sensitive way.

“We understand the point that Ipswich is making. It is one of three previously identified dispersal areas and is well-qualified to speak from experience.

“We will continue to try to deal with this in a sensitive way and will require co-operation.”

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