Political leaders must “take a clear stand” and condemn violence against asylum seekers, charities have said, as they warned of a high risk that disorder seen at the weekend could be repeated across the country.
A number of organisations have signed an open letter following “horrifying” scenes outside a Merseyside hotel housing asylum seekers on Friday, which saw fireworks thrown at police and a police van attacked with hammers and set alight.
The letter, co-ordinated by coalition campaign Together With Refugees, criticised “inflammatory language” and policies that “demonise” people seeking refuge, and warned of a “high risk of more premeditated extremist attacks around the country” following the violence outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley.
The letter has more than 100 signatories, including Liverpool City of Sanctuary, Care4Calais, Share Knowsley and the Refugee Council.
She prompted an outcry in November when she told MPs that the south coast was facing an “invasion” of illegal migrants.
Describing Britain’s asylum system as “broken”, the organisations said people are forced into a period of “limbo” as they wait for a decision on their claim to stay in the UK, and end up in hotels which they called “a completely inappropriate form of accommodation”.
The charities called on those in charge to “create a system that is fair and compassionate, and brings cohesion instead of division”.
They said: “Having already experienced great hardship, these men, women and children who come here for protection are now faced with violence, fuelled by inflammatory language of ‘invasion’ and policies that demonise them.
“The responsibility to create a system that is fair and compassionate, and brings cohesion instead of division, lies with our decision makers.
“With the high risk of more premeditated extremist attacks around the country, leaders of all parties must now take a clear stand and condemn any further violence against those who come here to find safety, and set out the action they will take to prevent it.”
The charities said those responsible for inciting anger and violence “bring shame on this country” and are in the minority.
They added: “This does not reflect the people of Britain. This is not who we are.”
Ewan Roberts, centre manager of Asylum Link Merseyside, said his area has a “proud history of welcoming refugees and the horrifying incident on Friday night does not represent the people of Knowsley”.
He said: “The people staying in temporary accommodation came to us seeking our help, and instead had the experience of being under siege by a violent mob.
“We urge politicians to stop using rhetoric that fuels such hatred, condemn this violence and start doing the real work of clearing the backlog instead.”
Former refugee Sabir Zazai, who is now chairman of Together With Refugees – a coalition of more than 500 national and local organisations – said the issue is not about party politics but rather “basic human decency”.
He said: “The very least all political leaders could do is to condemn the attack on people seeking sanctuary in our communities.
“Leaders of all political parties must call for the ending of these hostile policies and hateful language that only fuels division and anger.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has publicly condemned the appalling scenes outside the hotel and violence toward police officers on Friday night in Merseyside.
“The welfare of asylum seekers in our care is of the utmost importance and we will work with the police to ensure their safety.”
Fifteen people were arrested during a demonstration outside the hotel in Knowsley on Friday, including a man who appeared in court on Monday charged with violent disorder and assault by beating of an emergency services worker.
Jared Skeete, 19, of Irwell Close, Aigburth, Liverpool, was remanded in custody to appear before Liverpool Crown Court on March 13.
The remaining 14 people who were arrested, 12 men and two women who are mainly from the Knowsley area, were conditionally bailed pending the outcome of police inquiries.