Concerns have been raised over a decision to place 200 asylum seekers in a Renfrewshire hotel.
Residents are worried about the impact on already-stretched local services, such as GP surgeries and dentists, with the first 20 asylum seekers having already arrived at the Muthu Glasgow River Hotel in Erskine.
Local councillors have expressed anger at the proposals, saying they were not kept in the loop by Renfrewshire Council and the Home Office.
But they also sought to play down “baseless” and “offensive” social media rumours about the new arrivals, and said there were concerns for the wellbeing of the asylum seekers.
Sam Mullin, a Labour councillor for Erskine and Inchinnan, said he was angered “at the covert nature of the process”, which he claimed had excluded the community.
He told STV News he was not opposed to the UK taking in asylum seekers, but criticised a lack of local consultation.
“It’s not fair on local residents and it’s not fair on asylum seekers,” said Cllr Mullin. “It’s not about not wanting them here, because they cannot help where they are sent.
“But there was no consultation with members in the area, which is unacceptable. The way it has been imposed on the community – they have been treated badly in all of this.
“There is a lot of discontent and people have a lot of questions. There are also a lot of rumours, which comes from a lack of knowledge about what is happening.
“There is a good community spirit in Erskine, but there is a lot of anger that this has just been put upon them.
“I am not opposed to the UK taking in asylum seekers who face torture, persecution and threat to life.
“What I am disappointed by is the manner in which the Home Office have behaved in implementing their dispersal programme which has limited community discussion and input on serious issues.”
The settlement programme is being managed by the Mears Group on behalf of the Home Office.
Under the proposals, 20 asylum seekers will arrive at the MGM Mutha Glasgow River Hotel every week until its capacity is reached
Once full, the Erskine site will be the largest settlement of asylum seekers managed by the Mears Group in a Scottish hotel.
Local politicians said they only heard about the proposals through word of mouth over the weekend and an online petition calling for the plan to be scrapped has received more than 2,500 signatures.
The area’s local MP criticised the Home Office for allowing “mistruths” to spread.
Gavin Newlands, the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, described the use of the hotel for asylum accommodation as “a damning indictment of the UK Government’s catastrophic oversight of the asylum and immigration system”.
He said: “If the Home Office weren’t overseeing a huge backlog of applications, delayed by a decrepit and discredited system, these facilities wouldn’t be needed.
“The absence of any meaningful engagement with the community prior to this announcement by the Home Office has regrettably allowed some on the far right to scaremonger and peddle mistruths online.”
Newlands said he received formal notification last week that the first 20 asylum applicants would be arriving.
He then held meetings with a range of agencies – including civil servants at the Home Office – and now plans to write directly to home secretary Suella Braverman to seek clarity on “several points which remain unclear”.
Newlands added: “Pending a response to that letter, I have asked officials for a slowdown of individuals being housed at the hotel – a request which has been taken on board.
“While I completely understand some of the concerns being raised around the pressure on public services locally, I equally want to be clear that some of the wilder accusations and assertions being spread on social media are baseless, and in many cases simply offensive.
“Mears Group PLC hold a lucrative contract with the UK Home Office for asylum seeker accommodation in Scotland and I expect that funding to be spent properly in ensuring the highest standards of welfare and support across the board.”
“I have also requested a meeting with Mears Group PLC who although have not confirmed a date/time as yet have advised there will be no new arrivals at the hotel this week.”
All of those housed in the former Erskine Bridge Hotel will be men aged between 18 and 40 and they will receive meals and a laundry service during their stay.
The contract is currently stated to be for no more than 12 months, with the plan to relocate the asylum seekers during that period as their applications are progressed.
But the Scottish Refugee Council said it was concerned that the Home Office’s use of hotels to accommodate people seeking asylum is causing anxiety and stress in some local areas.
In a statement, the council said: “We have long called for an end to this practice. Hotels are not appropriate places for people who have recently arrived here seeking refugee protection.
“The Home Office is responsible for providing housing for people seeking asylum. In recent years they have used hotels and other inappropriate accommodation more frequently, prioritising private interests and profits over the needs of local communities and people affected.
“We call on the Home Office, their subcontractor Mears, the Scottish government and local councils to work together to support communities in welcoming people in need of protection, and to make sure that communities are consulted and have an input on future plans.”
What is Renfrewshire Council saying?
A Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “A number of individuals seeking asylum are being accommodated locally, supported by the Mears Group, as part of a UK Government contingency accommodation and support programme.
“This means they will receive temporary accommodation, funded by the UK Government, while their application for asylum is processed.
“The council and its partners, including health, Police Scotland and third-sector community organisations, are working alongside Mears to ensure appropriate support is in place for those involved.
“Mears will engage with community members shortly, to develop greater understanding of the programme and the people it supports.
“Renfrewshire has a history of welcoming people into its communities, especially those who are displaced or in need. We are confident this occasion will be no different.”
And the view from the Home Office?
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.
“The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 45,500 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6m a day.
“We engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation and work to ensure arrangements are safe for hotel residents and local people.”
Mears Group: Hotels are being used as a contingency
A Mears spokesperson said: “Due to the rise in the number of people seeking asylum and a shortage of suitable accommodation, hotels are being used as a contingency by the Home Office in Scotland and across the UK.
“Mears’ role, as contractor to the Home Office, is to place service users and support them while in accommodation. We are working to arrange moves to suitable alternative accommodation as soon as possible.
“Hotels are assessed prior to use, to ensure they are of an appropriate standard, including 24-hour reception. Three meals a day are provided to all services users, menus meet NHS Eat Well standards and are nutritionally balanced.
“The safety and welfare of our service users is of the utmost importance to Mears and we have in place a team of welfare support officers who will be on site daily. We are working with local partner organisations to arrange services and support.”
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