Asylum seekers were due to start arriving at the hotel in Gravesham on Tuesday despite significant opposition to the plans from local councillors. They said the area was unsuitable because the hotel is in the “most deprived area in our borough”, with serious problems in the community “such as county lines [drug] activity, high levels of sexual violence and crimes”.
Gravesham councillors said they were given assurances that the hotel would not be used by the Home Office until they had received a formal response to their concerns. But they were informed on Monday that the first asylum seekers would arrive on Tuesday. The Home Office has said it does not issue such assurances to councils.
Leader of Gravesham Borough Council, Cllr John Burden, warned the home secretary, Suella Braverman, in a letter in early February that the issue was fuelling “local community tensions”.
“Social media postings made by those holding extremist views in response to these notices now being issued have carried such significant concern that they have been raised with both the counter-terrorism and Prevent teams accordingly,” the letter said.
His concern comes as asylum seekers living in a Merseyside hotel were targeted by rioters, who were prompted to protest after claims a migrant sexually harassing a young girl were spread online by far-right groups.
In the letter, Cllr Burden said: “Would I be right in assuming that your officers have been lying to my organisation over the past few weeks in confirming no use will be made of the hotel until those formal responses have been received?”
Since the asylum seekers’ arrival was confirmed, the Labour-run council, together with the Conservative opposition leader and Tory MP Adam Holloway, has again written to Ms Braverman to express its “dismay” over the lack of answers.
“It should perhaps come as little surprise therefore that the much-promised 48 hours-notice that has been recently mentioned in meetings between representatives of Gravesham Borough Council and Home Office officials, prior to commencement of use of the site, will also be breached should occupation commence tomorrow as planned,” they wrote.
They also raised concerns about safeguards for any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who could be placed there.
It comes after the government admitted that 200 children are missing from Home Office-run hotels, with 63 still missing in Kent. Children taken from Kent hotels by organised crime groups have been found in 19 other police force areas, The Observer has reported.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has previously said that 24 hours’ notice was the “bare minimum” that MPs should expect. He said in November last year: “We are setting a minimum engagement period of 24 hours, but quite clearly that needs to be significantly more in future - at least a week - and I hope we can reach that within a matter of months”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.
“We engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation and work to ensure arrangements are safe for hotel residents and local people.
“We have been engaging with Gravesham Council since December 20 and held five meetings in the last two months to discuss asylum hotels. The council was given 24 hours’ notice in regards to a hotel being stood up for asylum seekers, in line with our guidance.”
This article was amended on February 22 2023 to include additional responses from the Home Office in terms of the assurances given to councils, and the meetings held with and notice given to Gravesham Council.
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