Westminster City Council slams ‘unacceptable’ Home Office actions in asylum seeker dispute

The group of around 40 people were relocated to Pimlico on May 31, eventually moving into the hotel on June 2 after protesting for two nights.
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Westminster City Council has slammed the Government for “unacceptable” mismanagement after dozens of asylum seekers protested over accommodation they described as “like a cell”.

The leader of Westminster City Council, Adam Hug, made the accusation during a war of words with the minister of state for immigration, and former cabinet member, Robert Jenrick, over an incident in which dozens of asylum seekers camped in the street for two nights.

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The group of around 40 people from countries including Syria, Iran and Iraq was moved from Ilford to a hotel in Pimlico on the evening of May 31.

After being asked to bunk up four to a room, the group protested outside the accommodation over the conditions, before moving into the hotel on June 2.

Cllr Hug had previously written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman on June 1, expressing his “deep concern” that the asylum seekers had been “placed on the streets of Westminster…without appropriate accommodation or support available, and with no communication to Westminster as the local authority”.

Today (June 8), Mr Jenrick publicly claimed the council leader had made “numerous incorrect and misleading statements” when commenting on the issue.

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Mr Jenrick said Cllr Hug was wrong when he claimed the asylum seekers were placed on the street - when some of them had turned down the “generous offer of accommodation”.

He said the Home Office wrote to the council in April to say that the site was going to be used, and he said the Home Office responded to the incident, with the Government’s director of asylum support on site on Thursday and Friday (June 1-2).

Mr Jenrick wrote: “It is fair and reasonable to require people to share a room. This approach will ensure approximately 90 fewer hotels are required than would otherwise be necessary and will save at least £250 million pounds (sic) a year.”

What did Westminster City Council say?

Responding to Mr Jenrick today, Cllr Hug said that, while there had been discussions between the Home Office and Westminster City Council regarding the use of the hotel, the potential movement of more than 40 additional asylum seekers was not raised, nor was the council informed of the group being moved on May 31 or of them being left outside the hotel all night.

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Cllr Hug continued: “We were only notified in the early hours of Thursday morning (June 1) by one of our own city Inspectors that this had occurred, requiring council staff to support the individuals without prior notice. Contact between the council and the Home Office about the emerging incident only took place at the council’s instigation on that day. Fundamentally, the management of the transition between accommodation and subsequent action by the Home Office is what caused these people to remain on the streets. This was unacceptable.”

Cllr Hug blamed the incident on the attempt by the Home Office to have four people in each room, with the group having been two to a room while in Ilford.

“It was only resolved”, he added, “when the Home Office reverted to matching the number of people to the room size in their current accommodation.”

Cllr Hug said he hopes that in future “we can expect proper notification from your officials when a vulnerable group of people are moved to the borough so that there will be no repeat of people on the streets and disruption to our local community”.