Portsmouth Could Stop Taking In Asylum Seekers

14 October 2015, 09:33 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

Portsmouth Council's voted to ask the government to remove the city from its designated areas for asylum seekers.

It's known as a 'cluster area' - one of the main places in the South East where they're rehomed.

Two councillors want the status removed to save money and ease pressure on services. The full council met yesterday afternoon to debate the issue and voted to ask the government to remove the status.

The motion carried by 21 votes to 16, with one abstention.

Campaigners, like the British Red Cross, are urging the council not to turn away people in need. There were protests, both for and against, outside the meeting.

There's also been lots of debate about it on Twitter this morning. Council leader Donna Jones tweeted to say the vote was "to request cluster area status is reconsidered NOT to shut the door on asylum seekers."

The proposal, put forward by Councillor Luke Stubbs snd seconded by Councillor Steve Wemyss, said:

'Since 2000 Portsmouth has been designated as a cluster area for the dispersal of asylum seekers. The intent of this policy was to lower the pressure on London and on those areas with the largest international ports - notably Kent. However while this has worked to some extent, it has done so by simply shifting many of those same pressures elsewhere.

'In the first quarter of this year fully 43% of the asylum seekers housed in the south east of England were housed in Portsmouth.

'While their accommodation and support costs are met by the Home Office, the costs of looking after unaccompanied minors and of providing additional school places falls on the local authority and are only partially reimbursed by central government.

'Portsmouth City Council will face some difficult choices as part of the 2016/7 revenue budget. Meanwhile despite substantial investment in the capital programme to create new school spaces in both the primary and secondary sectors most city schools will remain at or near capacity.

'This council acknowledges the chaotic and dangerous conditions that exist for civilians in Syria and elsewhere. It supports efforts by the government to provide aid to those displaced by violence.

'However it is concerned that any addition to the number of asylum seekers housed in the city will put an undue strain on already stretched local services. It therefore asks the Chief Executive to write to the Home Secretary requesting that Portsmouth be removed from the list of cluster areas.'

Meanwhile, Portsmouth City Council said it is working with a major contractor to help transport aid to refugees. Building maintenance specialist Comserve will provide vehicles to help campaign groups get the supplies they've collected to Calais.

Heart's told the announcement comes at the same time as council Leader Cllr Donna Jones wrote to government outlining the authority's willingness to support the Syrian resettlement programme. The letter to Richard Harrington MP, Minister for Syrian Refugees, details support offered to campaigners including the Comserve vehicles and secure storage space, as well as examples of residents prepared to provide accommodation to refugees.

It also explains the support Portsmouth can offer refugees has to be balanced against that already being given to asylum seekers through the city's role as one of three cluster areas in the south east.

Cllr Jones said:

"The council and the people of Portsmouth want to give all the support we can to refugees who have been displaced as a result of the brutal conflict in Syria. Portsmouth has arguably been one of the most proactive local authorities on the south coast in terms of arranging transport and storage space to support campaigning efforts.

"However a lot of what we can offer is already being used to house asylum seekers. For 15 years Portsmouth has been one of three south east cluster areas. I would like our status as a cluster area to be reviewed and if it is removed we would continue to work cooperatively with the Home Office to provide refuge and support to those who need it."