Since January 2022, The Suites Hotel in Kirkby has been used to accommodate a number of asylum seekers. This decision was made by the Home Office who appointed a private company – Serco – to manage the site and provide the support needed to those people living there.
What is the background to this?
In January 2022, the Home Office gave Knowsley Council less than 48 hours’ notice of their intention to temporarily house a number of asylum seekers at The Suites Hotel in Kirkby. More than a year later, this temporary arrangement between the Hotel and the Home Office remains in place.
At the time when the arrangement was put in place, Knowsley Council expressed concern to the Home Office about their lack of engagement with the local authority which meant the Council was unable to inform and engage with its own residents and put in place any support needed.
Is Knowsley Council being paid to house asylum seekers?
No, the Council is not being paid to house asylum seekers. The Home Office may have reached a financial arrangement with the Suites Hotel, but the Council is not involved in any way in any such arrangement.
Who is responsible for supporting the asylum seekers while they are in the Borough?
The Home Office has a contract with Serco, who is responsible for managing the site and supporting the asylum seekers who are housed there. Knowsley Council is not involved in that contract.
However, the Council is also very clear that people who claim asylum do need support. In that context, Knowsley Council reaffirms its commitment to supporting families and individuals who are fleeing persecution and terror in their homelands.
Political unrest and conflicts across the world have forced many people to leave behind their homes, livelihoods, loved ones, and everything they own to claim asylum and seek refuge in foreign countries. People in such circumstances do not simply “choose” to seek asylum.
The Council’s role is to continue to work with partner agencies to ensure minimal disruption and impact on the local community while this site is being operated by the Home Office.
Below are some “frequently asked questions” about asylum seekers:-
What is an asylum seeker?
The Refugee Council defines an asylum seeker as “someone who has fled persecution in their homeland, has arrived in another country, made themselves known to the authorities and exercised the legal right to apply for asylum”. The right to seek asylum is a legal right which we all share.
Why do people seek asylum in other countries?
People come to the UK and other countries seeking safety. “Asylum” is when a government accepts that a person’s home country is unable or unwilling to ensure their protection and allows them to remain in their country in order to stay safe. For example, this could be because a person is being persecuted by their home government/militia for their political activity, or because of their gender or sexual orientation.
Are asylum seekers the same as economic migrants?
No. Economic migrants are not asylum seekers.
In the UK, asylum seekers do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen. For example, people seeking asylum are not allowed to work. Many people seeking asylum have left behind well-paid jobs and professions (they may be doctors, lawyers, or teachers for example) to flee difficult situations and seek safety.
Who is responsible for supporting asylum seekers?
The Home Office is responsible for managing the asylum process and supporting asylum seekers while they are having their claims heard. The Home Office has appointed contractors to manage the practical day to day support to the asylum seekers while Home Office officials review the evidence and make decisions about each individual’s right to remain in the UK.
What happens to an asylum seeker when they arrive in the UK?
An individual who has arrived in the UK has to make a claim for asylum. When they have done this, the Home Office becomes responsible for providing basic support (like housing, food etc.) while the individual’s case is reviewed and a decision is made. An asylum seeker can stay in the country while his/her application for asylum is being assessed by the Government. This process can take several months, and sometimes years.
At first, an asylum seeker is allocated “initial accommodation” to be processed. This would usually be a housing block, but, when these are full, the Home Office looks to use hotels as a contingency. While in such initial accommodation, asylum seekers receive food but little else.
Eventually, asylum seekers are moved from the initial accommodation to housing dispersed in neighbourhoods where they can live while their asylum claims are heard. If they receive a positive decision on their case, they will be given “refugee” status and move on from the accommodation where they have been living as an asylum seeker. Once granted “refugee” status, an individual is able to work and can positively contribute to the economy.
Can asylum seekers claim benefits?
No. An asylum seeker cannot claim benefits. During the period while a person’s claim for asylum is being heard, he/she cannot work, cannot receive Government benefits, and cannot access many other public services. If a person’s application for asylum is accepted, he/she becomes a “refugee” and may be granted leave to remain in the UK for up to five years. As a refugee, a person becomes able to work. Once able to work, most refugees contribute far more to the UK economy than they take out.
Are there already asylum seekers in Knowsley?
Yes. Since 2016, the Home Office and its contractor have been housing asylum seekers in Knowsley. Asylum seekers have also been living in Knowsley in “dispersed” accommodation within neighbourhoods across the Borough while decisions on their asylum claims are made by the Home Office.
What is the role of the Council?
The Council is not responsible for supporting asylum seekers and the Home Office only shares minimal information about asylum seekers in the Borough.
Who else supports asylum seekers?
Charities and voluntary organisations provide support to these vulnerable people both while they are seeking asylum and also if and when they become refugees. The Council provides some support to some of these organisations.