Northern regions willing to take share of refugees - provided Whitehall foots the bill

Town hall leaders urge Cameron to ensure distribution of asylum-seekers across the country

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Indy Politics

The leaders of some of Britain’s biggest cities have told David Cameron they will welcome extra Syrian refugees. But they have warned that Whitehall must provide them with proper funding.

Joe Anderson, the Mayor of Liverpool, took the lead by announcing that the city was “willing to take in 100 refugees” if the Home Office would provide the “necessary resources”.

He was joined by town hall leaders in Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham in offering to take in extra refugees, as the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, told Mr Cameron that Scotland would take in 1,000 “as a starting point”.

Paul Andrews, executive member for adult health and wellbeing on Manchester City Council, said: “We will willingly take our share of refugees, as we already do and always have, but this does need to be properly funded by government as part of a national response.

Mr Cameron’s U-turn on accepting thousands more Syrian refugees comes as towns and cities in parts of the North are already under pressure from supporting large numbers of asylum-seekers waiting to find out if they will be allowed to stay.

Government policy has been for asylum-seekers to be moved away from London and the South-east to relieve the housing pressure around the capital.

David Cameron is facing pressure to accept more Syrian refugees (AP)

Figures from June show that more than a quarter of asylum-seekers were being put up in just five places – Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff and the former mill town of Rochdale.

Liverpool houses more asylum-seekers than anywhere else in England, with 1,369 in accommodation in the city. There were 956 asylum-seekers in Rochdale, which has a total population of just 211,000, at the end of June.

The Independent has learned that Rochdale is now seeking to reduce the number of properties available to Serco, one of the companies tasked by the Government to allocate asylum-seekers to places across the country.

Simon Danczuk, Rochdale’s Labour MP,  said: “There is no doubt that there has to be a better distribution of asylum-seekers across the UK.

“There are none in the Prime Minister’s constituency and just four in the Home Secretary’s constituency.

“While it is good that some local authorities are prepared to take more refugees, we need to ensure they are fairly distributed across the country.

“The Government needs to deal with asylum cases more efficiently so that, in times of crisis like this, we have more room for refugees.”

Hundreds of people staged a protest in Manchester saying that Mr Cameron’s announcement that “thousands” of refugees will be resettled is “too little, too late”.

Syrian refugees already living in the city have told The Independent about being forced to rely on people smugglers to cross from Libya to Italy by boat before travelling  to the UK on the underside of a lorry.

One man, a 29-year-old father of two who gave his name as Ibrahim, witnessed the sinking of a migrant boat packed with women and children in the Mediterranean.

He said: “I was arrested and beaten in every European country I came through. That’s why I came to the UK. Here I am treated with dignity.

“We are coming here for safety. There are only bombs and torture in Syria.”

Another man, a father of one who gave his name as Abu Abdul Rahman, said he fled Syria after he was tortured by the Assad regime.

He said: “We are hardworking and smart and we will offer everything we can to the country that allows us to stay. There is no hope for people in Syria, and the UK needs to allow more of them to come.”

Yasmine Nahlawi, advocacy and policy co-ordinator at the Rethink Rebuild Society, which represents Syrians in the city, said: “We want the UK to take more Syrian refugees and step up to its responsibilities.”

David Simmonds CBE, chair of the Local Government Association’s asylum, migration and refugee task group, said: “Any support offered by councils must be on a voluntary basis where support can be adequately provided.

“However, central government has to recognise that any costs associated with this international problem must be met by Whitehall.”