The Home Office has informed us that they intend to use hotels in Somerset as short-term accommodation for asylum seekers. To date this includes a hotel in the Bridgwater area. This is part of a national programme throughout the UK to deal with overcrowding.
Please be mindful that the asylum seekers have come from a variety of countries, many with young children, and may have experienced trauma when leaving their home country and coming to the UK.
We are a county known for our compassion and supporting others who are going through difficult times and we are grateful for your patience and understanding.
We appreciate residents may have questions so have put together the below to help people understand what is happening. We will continue to update the questions as and when the situation changes.
Why have asylum seekers been placed in Somerset hotels?
The Home Office is currently using a number of hotels all over the country, not just in Somerset, as temporary and emergency response accommodation for asylum seekers. This is due to an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK.
This provision will be managed by Ready Homes, a Home Office contractor for the south-west.
Who makes the decision on where asylum seekers are placed?
The Home Office makes the decision on which properties are used and makes all arrangements. We were not involved in the decision and are not consulted about the choice of hotels or placement of asylum seekers in the area.
How are asylum seekers being supported?
The Home Office will provide basic support, food and toiletries, and contract Migrant Help, a phone line that offers support with asylum registration and other issues.
In Somerset, a multi-agency group has been organised with key partners across the County; this includes NHS commissioners and providers, Avon and Somerset Police, Somerset Council (including Housing, Children’s and Adults Social Care, Education and Public Health), town and parish councils, Christian Help and Action for Refugees in Somerset (CHARIS), Refugee Aid From Taunton (RAFT), churches and other charities and voluntary sector providers.
Once a hotel is in operation, healthcare professionals will visit the hotel to make an initial health assessment, offer vaccinations and other treatment. Other support services will be co-ordinated through the group.
Are the council receiving any funding for this?
Some funding can be available in relation to health care but it depends on the type of hotel that has been put in place.
Will the asylum seekers be single persons or families?
A hotel can be used for both single people and for families. At present the hotel in Somerset is being used by family groups of different sizes and from a range of different countries. The council does not have this information in advance, it is held by the Home Office. The people who stay in the hotel is determined by need and pressures within the asylum system and is a Home Office decision.
Will the asylum seekers have access to local health services?
Yes, they will be able to access local health services in the same way that any person visiting Somerset on a temporary basis would. Our public health team are in discussions with local health providers to co-ordinate this service.
Will school-age asylum seekers be placed in local schools?
Children placed in Somerset will be given access to education. This could be through attendance at local schools and colleges or through other ways depending upon the needs of those placed here and the capacity of local schools and colleges.
How will the safety of asylum seekers and the community be maintained?
On arrival, all individuals will be given an induction and guidance on the local community and what is expected of them while they are temporarily staying in Somerset.
Additional staff will provide appropriate 24-hour, seven-days-a-week on-site security cover to ensure safety is maintained.
The police will deal with any reports or concerns as they would normally. We are working closely with Avon and Somerset Police and other key agencies. The police have spoken to other areas who have accommodated asylum seekers and the feedback suggests there have been low levels of concern during their stay.
If you have a crime to report, please contact the police in the usual ways by either calling 101 or using their online crime reporting form. As always, if you or someone else is in immediate danger or if the crime is happening right now then call 999.
If you have any questions about the provision of the hotel, please contact the Home Office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 020 7035 4848.
How long will the asylum seekers have been in the country and where will they have come from?
Some of the asylum seekers may be newly arrived in the UK and others may have been in the UK for some time while awaiting a decision on their asylum claim.
The number of refugees and people seeking asylum varies depending on what is happening in the world. So far in Somerset nationalities include Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan, Sudanese, Congolese and Albanian families but this may include others as residents will come and go according to Home Office decisions.
How long will the asylum seekers remain in Somerset?
The purpose of a short-stay hotel is to provide temporary accommodation for asylum seekers until they can be moved into dispersal accommodation. They will then remain in dispersal accommodation until their claim for asylum is processed. Both types of accommodation are provided by the Home Office and can be anywhere in the country. At short stay hotels, families are likely to move in and out on a regular basis.
Will they be given permanent housing in Somerset?
Following their time at a short-stay hotel, the asylum seekers will be moved to other temporary dispersal accommodation provided by the Home Office while their claim for asylum is considered. This could be anywhere in the country.
This accommodation is procured by Ready Homes not the Council.
Can asylum seekers claim welfare benefits?
Asylum seekers are not able to claim welfare benefits, nor are they allowed to work.
Asylum seekers in hotel accommodation where food and some services are provided receive £8 per week from the government.
What gender are most asylum seekers?
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), women and girls make up about half of any asylum seeking, refugee or internally displaced population.
However, women and children may be left in refugee camps in neighbouring countries while the men leave the camp to take the risky and often deadly trip to another country.
Families that travel together in a big group have a harder time with the logistics. Women and children are also at much higher risk of sexual abuse, violence and exploitation by traffickers and organised criminal gangs on the route. Therefore, families may stay behind and wait until the men have applied for asylum and the rest of their family will then follow in a much safer way. This is often facilitated by the British Red Cross.
Why have the asylum seekers travelled to the UK?
Most asylum seekers stay in the first safe country they reach. In fact, 80% of the world’s asylum seekers and refugees are living in countries neighbouring their country of origin.
The main reason why asylum seekers come to the UK is because they have family ties here. This covers more than 50% of cases. Other factors that people will take into account are more practical. For example, if you speak the language, you have more chance of being able to find a job and you can navigate every-day tasks like understanding public transport or going shopping.
It is also not uncommon for asylum seekers to state their belief that the UK is a safe, tolerant and democratic country, and refer to previous links between their own country and the UK.
There is no legal requirement for an asylum seeker to make their claim in any particular country.