Analysis: Why Yorkshire’s small, rural communities have shut door on asylum seekers

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

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Stark figures have revealed the depth of disparity between Yorkshire’s rural and urban communities when it comes to housing the country’s asylum seekers.

Across the region, Yorkshire’s big cities have opened their doors to those in need, while smaller communities and councils have said they simply cannot.

A lack of infrastructure, a shortage of funds, and prioritising the Government’s Syrian refugee resettlement scheme have all been cited as reasons for refusing.

Revealed: Which Yorkshire towns are housing asylum seekers - and which are not

But for those who have crossed the world to make Yorkshire their home, there is nothing which could make them feel less welcome.

“They are seeking asylum because they are afraid - this is life and limb stuff,” said Jon Beech, director of Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network (LASSN).

“It could be that they are gay in Uganda,” he said. “A Christian in Iran. Fleeing a 10-way civil war in Syria.

“It boils down to being afraid for their safety. You can’t claim asylum because you’re poor.

“Councils could step up more. If residents in rural areas are worried about school places, then fair play. If they are worried about hospital beds, housing, then fair play. But I’m not sure that’s the case.

“We’re not looking at large numbers of people - 626 in Leeds. The ratio of Asylum Seekers to the general population in Leeds is 1 in every 1,200 people. It makes you wonder what they’re afraid of.”

The figures show that big cities have taken the bulk of asylum seekers for the Yorkshire region, 84 per cent of 6,203.

Local authorities including Selby, Craven, Scarborough and Richmondshire have refused, while York, Harrogate and Ryedale say they haven’t been asked.

A number of cities have expressed their preference for a “fairer system”, with dispersion spread out across all communities. Others have said they are glad to play their part.

“We are proud to be a city of sanctuary,” said Bradford Council Leader, Coun Susan Hinchcliffe. “We intend to continue offering a safe haven to people fleeing unimaginable persecution.”

The numbers across the region are not huge, and they do not compare to other parts of the country like Glasgow, Rochdale or Bolton which all feature in high concentration tables per member of the population.

And while Yorkshire is experiencing a rise in numbers, Migration Yorkshire has said, these are well below the peak of the last decade.

For each asylum seeker who has arrived in Yorkshire, Wakefield is home for a few short weeks. Then, when another authority agrees to house them, they are moved on.

“They are found a place, in Wolverhampton, or Barnsley, or wherever,” said Mr Beech. “They don’t get a choice. They go where they are told to go. And it’s limited by money, so they only go to the very poor areas.

“Leeds City Council has been brilliant. They have said they don’t want people to share rooms - that’s not the case in every city.

“They might be forced to share a room with someone they don’t know, who doesn’t even speak their language.

“It’s like living life in a prison cell. They don’t have a great lot to do - they don’t have the right to work. They have maybe £5 a day to live off.

“It’s pretty bleak. Without a shadow of a doubt, they do start to lose their very reason to be.

“These are dentists, doctors, university lecturers. They are skilled. And they’ve got nothing to do.

“It’s a real shame. when refugees came during the Second World War, they were allowed to work and show a bit of gumption

Mr Beech says it’s not surprising that communities in rural areas, where there is a chronic housing shortage, are struggling to find the resource. But, he added, there needed to be shift change in attitudes.

“There’s a political will, in places like Bradford, Leeds and Barnsley, to say ‘they are welcome here’,” he said. “Councils can do more.”

City of York welcomes its first Syrian refugees

Refugees fleeing war-torn Syria have arrived in York and are now being resettled in the city, the authority has revealed.

The first families have arrived as part of the Government’s resettlement pledge to help find homes for 20,000 people.

York City Council has confirmed that the authority has now welcomed two families into private accommodation in the city.

“Ten refugees have now arrived and are in the process of settling in to life in York,” the authority said.

“The two families have been welcomed into private accommodation and into their local communities but no further details about the refugees will be released at this time, in order to allow them to settle into their new lives and begin recovering from their harrowing experiences.”

The refugees have been welcomed to Yorkshire as part of the Government’s pledge to rehome 20,000 Syrian refugees.

These individuals, as opposed to asylum seekers, have already been granted refugee status in the UK as they escape persecution in Syria.

Local authorities across the country have committed to find homes for these refugees, with hundreds to be resettled in Yorkshire.

East Riding has said it is to take around 100 refugees, while Harrogate Borough Council has said it will take a further 50. North Lincolnshire Council has also agreed to take 53.

Coun Keith Aspden, deputy leader of City of York Council with responsibility for Economic Development and Community Engagement said: “I’d like to extend a very warm welcome the first Syrian refugees arriving in our city

“I’d also like to thank the numerous organisations from the local community, faith, academic and voluntary groups across the city who have worked hard to co-ordinate efforts in preparation for their arrival. We will continue to work in the coming weeks and months to ensure that York is playing its part in helping those fleeing the situation in Syria.”

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