The riot outside a hotel in Knowsley housing asylum seekers was the inevitable outcome of a long-standing organised campaign, reports Sian Norris

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On 10 February, the far-right targeting of hotels housing people seeking asylum hit the headlines, when a riot kicked off outside a hotel in Knowsley, Liverpool.  

The violent scenes had all the hallmarks of the modern far-right – from its online organisation, to the purported motivation being the need to defend “our women” and “our girls” from attack by foreign “fighting age” men. 

But the scenes at Knowsley were far from the first time that an anti-migrant, conspiracist ideology which claims to protect (white) women and girls had attacked a hotel.

In fact, the targeting of hotels by anti-migrant, far-right forces goes back to at least 2019.

A New Target

The camera is wobbly, pointing down a corridor of hotel rooms. Each room is being used, the gruff voiceover informs the viewer, by asylum seekers. He knocks on one of the generic white doors and a young man, looking confused, answers. 

He was probably expecting housekeeping. Maybe even a visit from a friend. Instead, the voice shouts that it’s a nice room that “I am paying for as a taxpayer”.

The young man doesn’t want the stranger to enter his room. It’s his space. A home, for now. He’s nervous, there’s a fear that any negative reaction he gives could lead to danger. A second man’s voice calls out “you have a nice evening with your takeaways, watching BT Sports”. 

The door closes, and the gang move on, knocking on more doors, filming all the way. 

The video is from August 2020. The men are from the notorious far-right group Britain First, and the hotel is in the Midlands.

Having spent more than a year posting on Telegram about their rage that people seeking asylum are being housed in hotels “at taxpayer’s expense”, Britain First was amping up – moving from rhetoric to action. 

Since then, Byline Times has collected more than 100 Britain First videos and photos on Telegram of activists “exposing migrant hotels”. This is how they refer to protests outside hotels or the harassment of people seeking asylum who are housed in this temporary accommodation.

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They ask the sometimes bemused, sometimes alarmed, sometimes upset, residents if they are waiting for housing, before raging that the housing will be paid for by the Government. They demand to know if the person they have accosted is paying for the hotel room themselves. 

Captions describe the spaces as “teeming” with migrants, and the group seems particularly outraged when they find “migrants” who are “lounging around” or “playing games”.

Anger is expressed when the hotel has historic features or in a beauty spot – as if the presence of migrant people are sullying a pure British space. 

One heartbreaking video shows a child, enthusiastically waving to the camera as children tend to do. It’s a moment of human connection, of the universality of childish excitement. But not for Britain First. The post beneath the video rages that the “migrants” staying in luxury hotels are “waving at the camera” – interpreting a child’s friendly hello as an act of mockery. 

Countdown to a Riot

According to research by Hope Not Hate, there were 253 incidents of far-right activists targeting hotels last year. The biggest number of ‘visits’ were by Amanda Smith, at 124. Smith goes by the avatar ‘Yorkshire Rose’ on Twitter and is linked to the English Constitution Party.

A quick glance at Smith’s Twitter profile reveals retweets of posters raging against “boatloads of rapists” and condemning people seeking asylum as “sex pests”.

Smith retweeted a woman using the hashtag #SaveTheChildren – a phrase that has become increasingly associated with the far-right QAnon conspiracy, which baselessly claims ‘liberals’ are trafficking children to engage in Satanic ritual abuse. 

Britain First visited 81 hotels last year, while the far-right group Patriotic Alternative conducted 14 hotel protests. 

“The far-right have been targeting asylum hotels for some time but there is no doubt they have been emboldened by anti-refugee rhetoric from our Government and the disgraceful scenes at Knowsley,” Claire Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, told Byline Times.

A review of Patriotic Alternative’s Telegram channel reveals how the group leafleted the area around Knowsley before the 10 February riot.

Its flyers complained of “5 star hotels for migrants whilst Brits freeze”, with the text asking: “How many homeless ex-servicemen are sleeping rough on the streets of our big cities? Yet despite their service to the nation, has the Government ever offered to house them in hotels?”

But this was far from its first action against a hotel housing migrant people and people seeking asylum. As early as February 2021, the group had done a banner drop outside a hotel. 

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Byline Times’ analysis of the group’s Telegram channel found post after post of leafleting actions and banner drops at hotels, with banners emblazoned with slogans that range from “end the invasion” and “white lives matter” to “we will not be replaced” – the latter invoking the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory. 

Some of the protests target hotels primarily housing Afghan people seeking asylum following the Taliban takeover in August 2021, with Patriotic Alternative devising a flyer criticising the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. It complains that “one look at the images of these so-called ‘asylum seekers’ and you will see that the overwhelming majority are men of fighting age – not the elderly, not women and not children!”

Despite the fact that the Afghan people who arrived in the UK as part of the evacuation are here legally, Britain First also insists on calling them “illegals” or “illegal migrants”.

Accommodation in Crisis

The use of hotel accommodation to house people seeking asylum temporarily has risen dramatically in the past few years. 

An inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, published last May and focusing on the months May to November 2021, expressed concern that the Government’s target to end the use of hotel accommodation by March 2023 would not be met. 

The assessment, one month off from the target, is correct: as of September 2022, there were 37,142 people in hotels at a cost of £5.6 million per day. Data from last summer revealed how more than 2,000 people had been living in hotels for longer than six months. 

“The far-right is exploiting the Government’s failure to process asylum claims,” Moseley told Byline Times. “If you don’t want refugees living in hotels then lobby the Government – do not harass the victims of war, torture and persecution. Tell the Government to process their claims so they can work, contribute to our economy and their local communities, and rebuild their lives.”

People housed in temporary hotel accommodation receive food and board and an £8 per week allowance. However, despite complaints from the far-right that migrant people are being housed in “luxury”, the inspection report found that residents struggled with the food on offer.

The inspectors were told of children not reaching developmental milestones because of problems with nutrition, while residents were presenting with new health conditions relating to poor diet, such as type two diabetes. 

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“A growing proportion of the torture survivors we treat are languishing in hotels while their asylum applications are left in limbo,” ​​Fiona Crombie, a clinical services manager at Freedom from Torture, said.

“Living in uncertainty in hotels, survivors feel their lives are on pause, unable to make even simple plans to integrate or commit to the area, increases the symptoms of trauma and unfortunately we see a increase in presentations of depression and suicidal ideation.”

The inspector’s report also raised the issue of far-right protests outside hotels, citing concerns that the accommodation was being stood up in areas where there was a known far-right presence. One worker said the protests “scared people”. 

“This Government has been warned repeatedly that their anti-refugee policies and dog whistles to the far-right are endangering people seeking safety in this country,” Crombie added. “The small but menacing protests targeting asylum hotels around the country are a by-product of cynical politicians scapegoating refugees to distract from their own policy failures.”

Since the riot on 10 February, the targeting of hotels has continued. Patriotic Alternative have announced new protests and leafleted areas around “migrant hotels” on at least four occasions in the past few weeks. Britain First has posted videos of two more hotel visits. 

Knowsley was never, and continues not to be, a one-off.


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