A demonstration to show support for asylum seekers is scheduled to take place at a Renfrewshire hotel on Sunday.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress wants to show solidarity with people who have been placed at the Muthu Glasgow River Hotel in Erskine.
Sunday’s rally comes after the hotel was targeted by far-right groups in recent months.
Up to 174 people will be placed at the hotel as part of a settlement programme managed by the Mears Group on behalf of the Home Office.
Some local residents have expressed concern about the impact on already-stretched local services, such as GP surgeries and dentists.
But far-right groups have been accused of latching on to the “genuine anxieties” of members of the public, and they have clashed with counter-protesters – comprised of trade union, community and civic groups – on a number of occasions since February.
The STUC said the so-called Patriotic Alternative/Homeland is “trying to capitalise on the climate of fear, the cost-of-living crisis and the failure to properly fund Erskine’s services to scapegoat refugees fleeing war and oppression”.
It is now calling for “all-out opposition to neo-Nazis throughout Scotland”.
Sunday’s demonstration has gathered the support of several high-profile names – including author Irvine Welsh, comedian Frankie Boyle and musician Eddi Reader.
STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said: “The UK Government’s policy on refugees is a disgrace as is it nothing more than a dispersal scheme.
“The Erskine community and communities across Scotland are subject to a cost-of-living crisis and cuts to vital services. It is government, not refugees who bear the responsibility for that.
“The far right and neo-Nazi thugs like Homeland will be left in no doubt that, when we mobilise in all out opposition, our communities utterly oppose their racist and divisive attitudes.
“This Sunday we’re sending a clear message that Scotland welcomes those fleeing war and persecution; that we can be a safe haven for those in their hour of need when they need it most.
“Time and time again, the trade union movement and anti-racist groups like Stand up to Racism have driven out the poison of fascism from our communities.
“This weekend will be no different and we would appeal to anyone who shares in that goal to rally at the Muthu hotel from 11am this Sunday.”
Local councillors have previously expressed anger at the asylum seeker 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 Councillor 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.
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.
The area’s local MP has 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.”
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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