Bromsgrove, Nigel Farage and fact checking asylum claims

Recently, the village my wife grew up in found its way into the news. Nigel Farage took it upon himself to “expose” the fact that 150 asylum seekers had been placed in the Hilton Hotel in the Bromsgrove District. I thought it might be in need of a bit of fact checking. You can watch his exposé below with my comments underneath the video.

Firstly, he highlights that local hotels are ‘being filled up’ with asylum seekers. It is certainly true that this happens. The usual process for asylum seekers is that they are temporarily placed into hotels whilst National Asylum Support System (NASS) housing can be found for them. This is typically “hard to let” properties i.e. homes nobody is willing to rent because they are substandard.

These temporary hotels are usually less than ideal because they have no cooking facilities and whole families are often put into single rooms. For many of our folk, if and when their asylum applications are accepted, they are immediately removed from their NASS housing and need to be housed in temporary homes (usually delipidated flats and homes, often due to be condemned, that are currently unoccupied because they are “not fit for human habitation”) or hotels until such time as they can find suitable housing. Most of them end up homeless at least for a short time, sometimes much longer. Lots of people in our church have taken members into our homes because this happens so frequently. Hotels are both a temporary, and a sub-optimal, measure.

Second, Mr Farage repeatedly calls these folks ‘illegal migrants’. I am afraid that is factually incorrect. By definition, if they are in that hotel, they have claimed asylum. Asylum seekers are, in point of fact, legally here. There is no legal way to enter the country as an asylum seeker but the law states that upon entry one must present themselves to the authorities and claim asylum as soon as possible. To fail to do this quickly usually results in a rejected case (why did you claim asylum 3-months after your arrival?). But once the claim for asylum has been lodged, the asylum seekers are here legally until such time as their case is rejected. It is simply false to call them ‘illegal immigrants’. The very fact that they are in that hotel, managed by Serco who hold the government contract, means that they are specifically here legally under the auspices of the government.

Third, Mr Farage repeatedly states the measure is apparently temporary and then insists that the hotel is booked up at least to September. But that doesn’t mean the measure isn’t temporary. Temporary may mean a few weeks, a few months or even a year or two. What is more, it will certainly be temporary for the asylum seekers who are there. Most will be moved into NASS housing. Serco, who own the contract, do not want them in hotels because they are more expensive than the dilapidated housing they use elsewhere. Moreover, when their case has been heard, the asylum seeker will either be granted the right to remain (in which case no longer receiving NASS support and thus not in the hotel) or they will be repatriated (usually voluntarily as it costs less, but enforced where necessary) if their case was unsuccessful. Mr Farage did nothing in the video to prove the measure wasn’t temporary. The Home Office have addressed this specific issue clearly here.

Fourth, even if the measure were not temporary, Mr Farage singularly fails to highlight any specific problem with the situation. His implication is that asylum seekers being in this country at all is a problem, but he doesn’t suggest what we ought to do with people who are fleeing their home countries due to threat of imprisonment, torture or death at the hands of their government.

Moreover, he is unable to point to a single issue that affects the people of Bromsgrove specifically. His concern appears to be (as a couple of people in the video state) that the hotel is full. But, presumably, none of the people living in the District of Bromsgrove need to use the hotel because they have homes there.

Equally, local residents are not paying for the housing of asylum seekers. Local councils do not take on the costs, this is handled centrally by NASS. As Wigan Council note on their website related to the same issue:

Wigan Council is not paying any financial support to asylum seekers with all support coming from central government. Almost all asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are forced to rely on state support – this can be as little as £5 a day to live on. According to research carried out by the Refugee Council most asylum seekers do not know about welfare benefits before they arrive and have no expectation that they would receive financial support.

The only ‘issue’ that was highlighted is that groups of men were hanging around and some felt intimidated. But it is not illegal for people to group together. We have the freedom to associate and assemble in this country. But, if the worst issue we can highlight is that some men stood together in a group, I am struggling to work out exactly what the problem is supposed to be locally. I am wondering why the local church, with its much larger gathering and men congregating together frequently, is not deemed a problem? It is unclear why builders, who congregate outside in groups, are not deemed a problem? If the issue is simply that these are non-white men, it is hard to not construe that as overtly racist. Judging people and their threat-level solely by the colour of their skin is the definition of racism. If there is another reason why these groups of men congregating is an issue, Mr Farage didn’t raise it and I can think of nothing obvious. But people standing in groups hardly represents a major social problem.

Fifth, Mr Farage repeatedly suggests it is a problem that c.150 asylum seekers are housed in the hotel. To put that into context, Bromsgrove District has a population of c.100,000 people. These asylum seekers makeup 0.15% of the local population in Bromsgrove District. Those figures are tiny. Asylum seekers can hardly be said to be swamping the place.

More widely, by the end of 2018, the UK had c.44,000 asylum seekers receiving government support and a further 126,720 refugees (a refugee is a former asylum seeker whose case was successful, has been given the right to remain in the UK and no longer receives any NASS support). Asylum seekers makeup 0.07% of the UK population. Refugees makeup 0.19% of the UK population. Taking those figures together, asylum seekers and those who have been granted leave to remain account for 0.26% of the UK population. To put that into some context, Evangelical Christians make up around 3% of the UK population (c. 2m people). Nobody thinks that Evangelicals are swamping the country. According to the UNHCR, there are currently 4.2m asylum seekers worldwide and 26m refugees. The UK has c.170,000 of them. That is 0.56% of the world number of asylum seekers and refugees. The largest number of refugees and asylum seekers live in the following 5 countries: Turkey (3.7m); Colombia (1.8m); Pakistan (1.4m); Uganda (1.4m); Germany (1.1m).

Sixth, it was stated that there was no consultation. But it is entirely unclear why this warrants one. The Hilton Hotel is a private company who can let their rooms to whomever they will. I would not be surprised, given the existing lock down, if this particular decision was taken because it is a means of receiving income for that hotel during a period in which nobody else will be using it. So, the move is likely to have been helpful for the local economy, keeping this particular establishment afloat during a time in which it was unlikely to see any income at all. But that is, frankly, by the by. If a private company wish to let their rooms to whomever they want, who are we to say that they can’t? Interestingly, many Christian wanted to make that particular argument in respect to services run by B&B owners in a slightly different context.

Nevertheless, I have never been consulted by the local Travelodge regarding to whom they let their rooms. And why should they? I have never been consulted by local business about whom they serve. And why should they? I have never been consulted by local estate agents about the people who they will help buy houses in my area. And why should they? The same is true here. If Serco want to approach the Hilton and offer them a contract to let their rooms to asylum seekers, why should they not be permitted to do that? If Hilton Hotel want to let their rooms to asylum seekers and receive money from Serco for doing so, why shouldn’t they? What about that warrants a local consultation any more than any other business decision?

Seventh, Mr Farage repeatedly mentioned ‘open doors’ or ‘the consequences of open doors’. It may interest him to know that 48% of all asylum applications – even after appeals – are rejected. Almost half the number of people who seek to come are rejected and not granted refugee status. It is simply false to state that we have an open door policy. I would love Mr Farage to come to my church and explain to all the folks who have been rejected, and those we’ve seen repatriated, that we have an open door policy. I would love to hear him explain, if our policy really is open door, why I have so many people in my church awaiting decisions in their cases (the answer is always yes, isn’t it?). I would love him to explain why we have a court system set up to deal with these cases if everybody is simply waved in. This is just utter nonsense.

Mr Farage went on to argue that even if the applications are rejected “which they mostly are” (see above, this is false), everybody stays and ends up working regardless. Without doubt, this happens. But it is simply untrue to say they all end up staying. In 2018, 1200 former asylum seekers were repatriated and removed from the UK. That is comparable to the figure that, in 2018, 2707 appeals were determined with 57% dismissed and a further 5% withdrawn by the claimant. If 62% of appeals were rejected or withdrawn, out of 2707, we would expect c. 1600 people to be removed. Other factors will also be at play, such as appeals processes sometimes running into different quarters and year stats. However, the 1200 removed asylum seekers correlates reasonably closely to the 62% of rejected and withdrawn appeals. It is factually untrue to suggest that everybody who is rejected (even a majority of people whose claims are rejected) remain and work on the black market.

Eighth, it is notable that Mr Farage offers no specific solutions to the problem. Hotels are frequently used to temporarily house asylum seekers before moving them on to NASS housing (typically ‘hard to let’ homes i.e. generally substandard homes). Given that most asylum seekers arrive with nothing, and what they do arrive with they must render to the authorities (they are not allowed bank accounts nor to hold cash), what does he propose we do? People fleeing persecution, torture, death who arrive with nothing seeking our help and support are offered no specific solution to their plight. What does Mr Farage propose should happen?

Mr Farage, at the end of the video, simply demonises all asylum seekers. He has no problem admitting that he doesn’t know who these folks are and yet gladly suggests that they ‘may well be ISIS’ and that ‘failed asylum seekers have committed horrible acts in our country before’ as if that is what the majority of them will be doing. These comments are not based in any credible statistics and they are not borne out in the experiences of people who live in high density asylum seeker areas such as G. Manchester and Glasgow. He has no answer for what we do for those who are fleeing real and genuine persecution. He provides no process for adjudicating on these matters. He raises things as ‘issues’ without being clear exactly what those issues are or proposing any other means of addressing them. Given all that, apart from racial prejudice, how do we explain his complaints and those of the people in the video alongside him?