Last weekend I got a call saying the Home Office had hired a hotel in Hove and in two hours time 60 unaccompanied child refugees were being placed there. Almost no questions I had were answered because the Home Office simply didn’t know the answers – they were in a shambolic panic.
Before I go on you’ll notice that I don’t mention the hotel’s name in this post and I’d really appreciate it if you don’t mention it in any comments too. I’ve asked journalists not to identify the the location also in order to protect the children and local residents from people who seek to exploit situations like this for nefarious or populist purposes.
Firstly it’s important to understand why this occurred. The government’s reception facility in Kent became full. So also did the ‘overflow facility’. Despite this being debated in parliament for a decade and arrival numbers being predicted for months, the Home Office had no plan. Ministers should hang their heads in shame, because what I have seen unfold since is really appalling.
In the days that followed their arrival, the Home Office could not confirm to me the legal status of the children, neither could they say who has responsibility for safeguarding, welfare, security or accountability. Having spoken to many people about this in recent days I’ve come to the conclusion that the Home Office have created a vacuum hoping that our council will just step in so they can walk away. The Home Office is literally goading our council to clean up a terrible mess of their creation and at the centre of this situation are potentially vulnerable children.
In recent days I’ve been busy trying to play a constructive role in resolving these issues. I’ve spoken numerous times to council officials, local councillors, Home Office officials and local residents. I’ve visited the hotel myself and spoken directly to the Home Office official onsite plus the security contractor who runs the hotel’s operational side. I’ve also written to every resident in the street to share all the information I have, that letter will be with residents this evening and tomorrow.
I have two priorities. First is to ensure the dignity and welfare of the children, all aged 16 or 17, is upheld along with their legal rights. Some of them will have experienced highly traumatic situations in their past and will need care. And all have legal rights which must be maintained until their asylum claim is settled.
Secondly I’m working hard to ensure that neighbourhood peace and security is maintained and the values our of community are respected in a way I would expect of every visitor to our community.
I have explained these priorities to the Home Office official onsite and those responsible for managing the hotel. They cannot be left in doubt about the strength of my feelings on this.
We were not consulted before this happened. I’ve heard that several other local authorities refused but in our case we only found out about it after the deal had been done. Had we been consulted – had the Home Office acted in a functional, competent way – all of these issues would have been resolved before the children arrived. I will be contacting Priti Patel to express my extreme dismay at her actions in this regard.
Some of the children have already been moved to more appropriate accommodation elsewhere. Several new children have also arrived. Most will only be here for a short time but the Home Office are unable to tell me how long this arrangement will last.
These are difficult and sensitive issues that require planning, good organisational arrangements which include welfare, safeguarding, clear accountability and measures in place to respect the values of host communities. The children and local residents deserve this.
In the coming days I’ll continue to play a constructive role in resolving these outstanding issues. The staff I met onsite seem kind and concerned. They too have been let down by those at the very top of the home office. I’ll keep residents posted as we as a community do our bit to ensure fairness and dignity in the midst of such a sensitive situation.