Knifings and knuckledusters: the problems of dispersal

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The Independent Online

The birthplace of William Wilberforce has experienced some of the worst attacks on asylum-seekers since the dispersal system was introduced in April 2000.

Hull

The birthplace of William Wilberforce has experienced some of the worst attacks on asylum-seekers since the dispersal system was introduced in April 2000.

Two Afghan men were attacked with a knife and possibly a knuckleduster in August last year, leading to several asylum-seekers fleeing Hull in fear. About 120 asylum-seekers later staged a protest rally in a city park. Earlier this month a Kurdish man needed hospital treatment after his throat was cut by a gang of youths hurling racial abuse.

Danny Brown, a councillor, warned that Hull could take no more asylum-seekers but that Nass, the Home Office's National Asylum Support Service, was allowing people to be placed in private housing in the city.

He said: "The council agreed to take around 250. But since Nass got involved the service has been working directly with private landlords."

Bradford

Race riots in the Yorkshire city this summer were nothing to do with the asylum issue. Only relatively small numbers of asylum-seekers have been placed in Bradford, and Richard Wightman, the deputy leader of Bradford City Council, said: "There have been a few problems, but not on the scale faced by some areas."

In the most serious incident, six families from eastern Europe living in the Fagley area of the city were forced out of their homes by a hate campaign. The council started eviction proceedings last January against a group of residents accused of subjecting the asylum-seekers to threats and intimidation.

The families, from Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia, were also the victims of vandalism and burglary.

The council described the hate campaign as "appalling" and "mindless". The asylum-seekers have been relocated.

Leicester

The city's multi-ethnic population has helped refugees settle without major problems. A spokeswoman for the city council said: "There's an appreciation and awareness of different ways of life."

About 450 asylum-seekers have been placed in the International Hotel in the city centre. Most of the city's asylum-seekers are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. People working with asylum-seekers are disappointed that Nass has not kept promises to send people in clusters of common language. Leicester has people from 40 countries, creating difficulties in providing translators.

There were protests against deportations in February after an Iranian asylum-seeker, Ramin Khalegi, committed suicide in the International Hotel. Mr Khalegi, who had said he was a political prisoner and had been tortured, was facing removal to Iran after his asylum claim was refused.

Liverpool

Dispersal is regarded as "a shambles" by the city council, which has fallen out with Nass.

Liverpool's asylum-seekers are now housed with private landlords, including 700 in two "squalid" tower blocks called The Inn on the Park and The Landmark. All the asylum-seekers are housed in the deprived neighbourhoods of Everton, Kensington and Toxteth, undermining attempts at regeneration.

Richard Kent, Liverpool's executive member for housing, said: "We are seeing the poorest of the poor put with the very poor." He said doctors in such areas were overworked and unable properly to care for asylum-seekers as well.

Liverpool has long-established ethnic minority communities and expected new arrivals from Eastern Europe and Somalia. Instead, it has been asked to take people from more than 100 countries.

A group of 18 asylum seekers protested this month when the Home Office tried to relocate them to Oldham, the scene of recent race rioting.

Sunderland

A city with few people from ethnic minorities, it has experienced some problems in accommodating asylum-seekers.

Residents have protested over plans to give planning permission to convert a residential home in Washington into flats for asylum-seekers. Some on the city council share the view that the home, far from Sunderland city centre, is not appropriate for asylum-seekers.

There have been reports of violence including the stabbing in a subway of Farid Hosefar, 31, in March. Mr Hosefar, an Iranian, suffered serious injuries to his arm and back after the unprovoked attack. The incident led to 50 asylum-seekers picketing Sunderland police station in protest at lack of protection.

Support groups have worked hard to make asylum-seekers welcome but the National Front is planning a march in the city on Saturday.

Newcastle

The city has taken relatively large numbers of asylum-seekers and has been generally pleased with the way they have been received by the local population.

A city council spokesman said: "By and large, although it has not been pain-free, it has gone pretty well."

Newcastle has attempted to give community organisations in different parts of the city as much information as possible about the arrival of asylum-seekers. It has avoided placing large groups of asylum-seekers in single estates and tried to spread people across the city's stock of public housing.

Police had to be called to a serious disturbance at an asylum hostel in May last year. More than 40 windows were smashed at the Angel Heights hostel, where 200 men – mainly Iranians, Iraqis and Afghans – were being held. Police made six arrests during the protests, which were over the standard of accommodation and food, and the lack of financial support given to asylum-seekers.

Attempts have been made to place people in nearby rural areas, but districts such as Sedgefield, Tony Blair's constituency, have been reluctant to take them.

Coventry

One of the dispersal system's success stories, Coventry has taken large numbers of asylum seekers without major problems. Phil Townshend, the city councillor with responsibility for asylum issues, said it was important to the national reputation of the once war-ravaged city that it was seen as hospitable to refugees. He said: "This is a city of peace and reconciliation. We cannot lay claim to these titles if we don't practise what we preach." Coventry council last month circulated thousands of leaflets designed to address "common misconceptions" about asylum seekers. Its determination not to "shy away" from the issue is in marked contrast to other cities which have tried to disguise the arrival of asylum seekers in the hope of avoiding local resentment. Coventry has its own refugee centre, staffed by volunteers and asylum seekers took part this summer in a city centre festival called Positive Images.

Cardiff

The city, home to some of Britain's most long-established ethnic minority communities, has had few problems accommodating a relatively small number of asylum-seekers.

Cardiff's 350 referrals from the Home Office come from 30 countries, with the largest groups from the Czech Republic and Afghanistan. The city has capacity for a further 650, most of whom will live maisonettes not wanted by those on council waiting lists.

The most significant problems have concerned about 50 asylum-seekers housed in Cardiff prison, some of whom have been taken in handcuffs for health checks at local hospitals. The presence of asylum-seekers in prison has invoked widespread criticism in the Welsh Assembly. Last week more than 30 asylum-seekers at the jail staged a hunger strike in protest at the conditions in which they were being held.

Dover

The dispersal of asylum- seekers across Britain has halved the number in Dover, but it is still disproportionately high for a town with a population of only 37,000. Most of the asylum- seekers are housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, despite false local rumours that they are occupying public housing stock. A spokesman for Dover District Council said: "We still get complaints that there are asylum-seekers wandering around with mobile phones and flash cars. But, in general, there is a far more tolerant attitude than there was initially." Tension in the town has decreased considerably since two years ago, when a clash between local youths and asylum-seekers in a park left one young man stabbed. The police in Kent have repeatedly stated that crime in the town has not risen as a result of the influx of asylum- seekers. Only a "handful" of refugees who are given permission to settle in Britain choose to stay in Dover.

London

A paper presented to the Greater London Authority suggested that one in 20 of the capital's population were asylum- seekers or refugees, a figure said to be 30 times greater than the UK average.

The Government introduced its dispersal programme largely to take the pressure off London authorities which claimed they were facing vastly disproportionate costs.

Although many thousands have been dispersed, large numbers chose to remain in London, although they must forgo housing benefits, because they want to remain among established members of their own communities. Racial tensions have also surfaced. Cumali Sinangili, 41, a Turkish asylum-seeker, was stabbed in the eye and beaten in Bermondsey last December.

Glasgow

The city's rundown, high-rise Sighthill estate is home to 1,500 asylum-seekers. Earlier this month, Firsat Dag, 22, a Turkish Kurd, was stabbed to death on the estate. He had told his family hours before his death that he wanted to return home because of the racial abuse he was suffering.

Days after the murder of Mr Dag, a 22-year-old Iranian, Davoud Rasul Neseri, was stabbed and said he would rather risk death in his own country than remain in Glasgow. Last week a group of 20 asylum-seekers from Sighthill travelled to the headquarters of Nass in Croydon to ask to be rehoused. They claim they were told to return to Glasgow. Other Sighthill asylum-seekers have fled as far as Dover.

Glasgow City Council has drawn up a leaflet based on the experiences of asylum-seeking children to encouragesympathy for those who have been dispersed to the city.

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