Greenwich Council’s leader has angrily criticised the Home Office after it removed 130 refugees and asylum seekers who had been living in the borough.
Anthony Okereke spoke out after reports of a protest in a hotel near Greenwich town centre after officials told the asylum seekers that they were being forcibly moved to Bedfordshire with just a few hours’ notice – even though many are studying and had built up community links in southeast London over 18 months.
One, who used a wheelchair, had only just turned 18 and was undergoing treatment in a London hospital, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Okereke said the Home Office did not tell the council – which is responsible for providing basic services to asylum seekers – it was planning to move the refugees.
“The recent actions of the Home Office forcibly removing refugees living in our borough is deplorable,” he said. “By the time we were notified, the removal of people was already under way. This raises significant concerns over the way the Home Office works with local authorities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers in our borough and beyond.
“No one should be worrying about how they will survive the next month, with the added fear of being displaced and uprooted from an area they have made their home, without their consent or considering their needs.”
A charity worker told The Guardian that the treatment of the refugees was “shameful”. One man was arrested, the paper reported.
Denise Scott-McDonald, the council’s cabinet member for health and social care, said: “It is disgraceful that people who have made their lives in the borough, after already spending 18 months in wholly unsuitable and unacceptable accommodation, are now being forcibly removed to places where they have no connection.
“It is a basic human right to be able to access permanent and safe housing. The government must ensure people fleeing unimaginable horrors receive the right help.
“We are calling for commitment from the government to find suitable long-term accommodation, so those fleeing war and danger can start to rebuild their lives.”
While asylum seekers are not entitled to social security benefits, councils are expected by the government to provide services such as education and social care.
Greenwich recently followed Lewisham in declaring itself a borough of sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers. In 2021, the council criticised the Home Office for its treatment of 700 Afghan refugees who were being put up in local hotels after fleeing the Taliban.
The Home Office told The Guardian on Wednesday: We continue to provide safe accommodation for destitute asylum seekers who need it as we work to end the use of hotels, which are costing UK taxpayers almost £6m a day.
“Individuals housed in our accommodation may be moved to other locations in line with the allocation of accommodation guidance.”
If you want to volunteer to help migrants and refugees in Greenwich or Lewisham, contact Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, which offers services in both boroughs, or contact the Greenwich Borough of Sanctuary group.
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