Home Office Housing Asylum Seekers in Areas of Far-Right Activity
Byline Times investigates why hotel accommodation for those seeking asylum is being provided in areas facing hostility towards migrants
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A report into hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum – published by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) earlier this month – suggests that racist and far-right attacks on hotels housing asylum seekers could have been avoided “with better engagement and planning on the part of the Home Office and accommodation providers”.
The inspector found that many of the hotels were in areas with an active far-right presence, with one report stakeholder questioning the decision to use a hotel in an area which they knew to be an “unsafe place for people seeking asylum”. The Home Office justified the decision as the accommodation was needed quickly.
This accusation is backed by exclusive analysis from Byline Times which has matched hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum with far-right activity and constituencies targeted by far-right electoral candidates.
The analysis examined far-right Telegram channels to identify where hotels were being targeted by groups such as Britain First and Patriotic Alternative. Having identified sites under attack, the history of far-right activity in the area, including during elections, was researched.
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The Britain First and Patriotic Alternative Telegram channels included boasts that the far-right groups had launched attacks against hotels in numerous locations including Nottingham, Scarborough, Seacroft, Rotherham, Southampton, Folkestone, Newcastle, Salford, Epping Forest and Wigan.
The locations had a history of far-right activity that ranged from racist and Islamophobic graffiti, to far-right rallies and threats, as well as attacks on hotels.
Perhaps the most prominent hotel location was Rotherham – a target for anti-Muslim, far-right activity since the 2014 sentencing of gangs responsible for grooming and sexually exploiting 1,400 girls.
Far-right groups used the race and religion of the perpetrators to whip up Islamophobia. The movement’s exploitation of horrific abuse led to numerous assaults on the local Asian community including attacks on mosques, while the group Yorkshire’s Finest looked for opportunities to carry out attacks on Asians and Muslims to give themselves a militant image. Rotherham’s Muslim community were forced to set up a Guardian Group to protect people from racist attacks.
There is little doubt that the Home Office was aware of the troubled history of the town.
Rotherham is probably the most obvious example of far-right activity taking place before hotels for asylum seekers were housed in the area. But it is one of many.
In Nottingham, where a hotel was targeted by Britain First, far-right activists had taken part in a march in 2020, with neo-Nazi flags on display.
Numerous hotels in the Yorkshire town of Scarborough were ‘visited’ by both Patriotic Alternative and Britain First – the seaside resort was the target of a far-right march in 2018, while police investigated far-right “Runic” graffiti earlier this year.
Another Yorkshire town, Seacroft, was a target of the Yorkshire branch of Patriotic Alternative. The group gathered outside a hotel where they condemned the Government for housing people “from half the world away” repeating the racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory which falsely claims that white people are becoming a minority in the UK. In 2019, racist graffiti was sprayed on a house in Seacroft.
Other examples of far-right activity in towns where asylum seekers are housed in targeted hotels are Southampton, where in 2015 an Eid event was cancelled due to far-right fears; and nearby Folkestone, where the Napier Barracks have long been a site of protest by far-right actors.
In Wigan, where Patriot Force has a petition to get a “migrant hotel” shut down, a far-right leader was jailed in 2018.
Several hotel targets are in constituencies where far-right candidates stood in May’s local elections. Paving the way for those campaigns are often years of localised far-right activism – and a strategy of concentrating more resources into fewer seats for parties like For Britain and Britain First.
Those areas include Epping Forest in Essex – long considered a hotbed for far-right activity. This year, the anti-Islam For Britain Party was standing two candidates, both of whom were prominent members of the now defunct British National Party (BNP).
Standing for re-election was For Britain’s Julian Leppert. He has been accused of inciting racial hatred after he posted a video on YouTube titled The Epping Migrant Hotel Scandal. In the video, Leppert – who was lambasted by Epping Forest District Council for violating the councillors’ code of conduct and made to attend equality and diversity training – says the hotel was housing “illegal immigrants” from “perfectly safe countries” to exploit “our benefits system” and they pose a “security risk to local people”.
Essex police debunked Leppert’s claims that petty crime had risen as a result of the arrival of people seeking asylum in the area. Leppert, who has also advocated for a whites-only enclave in the area, lost his seat.
The same hotel targeted by Leppert was ‘visited’ by members of Patriotic Alternative last February. The group said in a Telegram post: “Today we went to the… hotel in Epping with a clear message for the politicians housing hundreds of migrants there at our expense. We were never asked if we wanted all these economic migrants, adding to the strain on local services – and we don’t!”
Britain First’s chief of staff stood as a candidate in Salford’s local elections. The region was reportedly home to two asylum seeker hotels, while six hotels were being used for Afghan refugees. Some of them were reportedly transported there with less than a day’s notice, for which the Home Office apologised, saying that the situation was “unprecedented” and that they had to “seek last minute accommodation for thousands of Afghans at short notice”.
Members of a far-right party had gained access to one of the hotels and “harassed” residents.
In a Britain First video posted on Telegram, two members can be seen entering the hotel and confronting a security guard. “Is this hotel holding illegal immigrants?” one of them says. “Who’s all the supplies for?”
Before the duo was escorted out of the hotel, the man said to the hotel staff: “You should hang your head in shame.”
This was far from the first incident of racism and xenophobia in the area. In the run-up to a rally of anti-Islam activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as ‘Tommy Robinson’) in 2019, graffiti stating “no blacks” was sprayed on the front door of a home just days after a 10-year-old boy and his father had moved in.
REFUK (Reform UK), the successor to the Brexit Party, heavily targeted Bolton and Derby in the local elections, where the party had six councillors divided between two wards. Derby is home to several hotels housing asylum seekers. Among them was a hotel “exposed” by Britain First – a term the party uses to rally its base and stoke up anger. One of the responses to the video reads “disgusting”, while another user says “no more terrorism”.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration recommended that the accommodation provider and/or the Home Office should liaise with the local police force or other interested stakeholders to understand whether accommodating asylum seekers in a specific region will cause any issues with the local community.
The Home Office accepted the recommendation to “implement a system to record details of safeguarding issues identified in contingency asylum accommodation, including the accommodation site, issue of concern, and outcome”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers extremely seriously and to suggest otherwise is wrong. Whenever we seek to use a hotel for asylum accommodation, we engage with the local police and other stakeholders to identify any community tensions. Reports of far-right activity or a threat to an asylum seeker is immediately reported to the Home Office and followed up to ensure action is taken to protect their safety”.
This article was updated at 6pm on 27 May to include a response from the Home Office