SAJID Javid should not need reminding about asylum policy – and public sensitivities. Before becoming Home Secretary, he was in charge of housing, communities and integration policy.
Yet, while many families do understand this country’s international obligations and recognise that the status of asylum seekers fleeing persecution is very different to illegal immigrants who have no right to be here, they do not accept the Home Office’s apparent ambivalence.
This much is clear from the letter that 14 Yorkshire councils have sent Mr Javid about the future arrangements for accommodating asylum seekers – the Government is thought to have received no bids to take over the running of a £600m contract run by outsourcing giant G4S.
These are not councils looking to abdicate their responsibilities. Quite the opposite. Areas like Leeds and Sheffield are proud of their efforts to open their cities to strangers and provide sanctuary to those who find themselves thousands of miles from their homeland.
The numbers also need placing in context – 5,500 asylum seekers a year is a fraction of Yorkshire’s population of five million people and there are myriad examples of such people, once granted refugee status, making a positive contribution to the county’s success and diversity.
Yet councils can only do so much. Not only are their budgets stretched, but there’s a serious shortage of social housing and the Government already knows that there’s a disproportionate number of asylum seekers being handled in the North because homes are cheaper to rent here.
And, while some residents will say that the councils concerned should walk away from their obligations, this will not help current – or future – asylum seekers. It’s all the more reason why Mr Javid needs to reach an understanding with town halls and forge a new policy which commands public confidence.