Asylum seekers in Dunstable said they are afraid to leave their hotel because local people film them when they go for a walk in the park.
The hotel in the Bedfordshire town that houses the asylum seekers, who hail from countries including Yemen, Eritrea and Syria, has been the focus of protests by hundreds of local people, and the far-right group Patriotic Alternative has carried out a leafleting campaign naming the hotel and with the slogan: “You Pay. Migrants Stay.”
“They are recording us everywhere we go in the park,” one asylum seeker told the Guardian. “We thought that in the UK we would have a better life, but nothing has changed. We don’t go out most of the time. We are in a dangerous situation. We are at risk”.
John Gurney, a local councilor representing Dunstable Independents, who has opposed the recent arrival of asylum seekers at the hotel, posted on Facebook: a cafe, going to a park, etc. But why are genuine city dwellers standing outside the hotel and taking pictures of the people there?
“We cannot do anything about what happened. If you purposefully watch and follow guests who are staying at (…) and then post your photos and videos online, it is possible that, unless an actual crime has been recorded, the police may pursue you for harassment. So please don’t follow and photograph other people.”
Dunstable isn’t the only area Patriotic Alternative is targeting with a flyer campaign. The group also held one in Knowsley, Merseyside, ahead of violent far-right protests earlier this month outside a hotel housing asylum seekers.
According to the charity Hope Not Hate, which monitors far-right activity, Patriotic Alternative coordinated with people in Skegness to demonstrate in the city center on Saturday. The organization said a second anti-immigrant demonstration, billed as “Veterans Before Illegals”, organized by former English Defense League activist Scott Pittsy, was also expected to take place on the same day in the city.
Knowsley’s protest is believed to have been triggered by a video clip of unknown origin, allegedly showing a man described as an asylum seeker housed in the hotel where the hostile protests were concentrated making propositions to a female student.
After investigating, police said they would not take action against the man in the video.
It was widely reported last week that four teenage Afghan asylum seekers were arrested in Kent in connection with the alleged rape of a 15-year-old schoolgirl. However, police said that after investigating the alleged incident, no further action would be taken against the boys.
A Kent police spokesman said: “Four boys arrested following a sex crime report in Dover have been released without charge. Kent Police conducted a full, thorough and sensitive investigation into the incident which allegedly involved a teenage girl and a teenage boy on Monday 6th February 2023. No evidence of criminal offense has been established and no further action is expected to be taken, the unless any further relevant information is received.”
While hostility towards asylum seekers is apparent in some areas, others have shown support. Asylum seekers staying at the hotel in Dunstable had previously lived in a hotel in Greenwich. When Home Office contractors informed them at short notice that they were being transferred to their hotel in Dunstable, around 40 refused to leave. They remained at the Greenwich hotel with the support of the local council.
Anthony Okereke, Greenwich council leader, said: “The recent actions by the Home Office, forcibly removing refugees living in our neighborhood, are deplorable. This raises significant concerns about the way the Home Office works with local authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of refugees and asylum seekers in our neighborhood and beyond.”
Denise Scott-McDonald, Cabinet Member for Adult Health and Social Care on Greenwich Council, said: “The removal of asylum seekers goes completely against our principles as a neighborhood of refuge and sanctuary. That’s why we’ve been trying to find and work with the Home Office to find a workaround. We remain firm in our condemnation of the removal of people against their will.”