COUNCILLORS have been labelled ‘heartless’ after demanding the door be closed on more asylum seekers coming to Portsmouth.
Tories Luke Stubbs and Steve Wemyss want the home secretary to remove the city as a ‘cluster area’ for asylum seekers as local services are already stretched.
It’s really heartless to say Portsmouth wants to cut itself off from the rest of the world.Dr Charles Leddy-Owen, a specialist in immigration issues at the University of Portsmouth
They say it wouldn’t ‘be fair’ on the community to accommodate more at their expense.
But campaigners are dismayed by their attitude – at a time when the world’s humanitarian crisis deepens.
Dr Charles Leddy-Owen, a specialist in immigration issues at the University of Portsmouth, said: ‘In the current environment and given the refugee crisis that England and the world is facing, it’s disgraceful.
‘What is particularly shocking about it is, they are saying they don’t want to provide for those who are unaccompanied minors.
‘They are saying that Portsmouth is no longer willing to help the most vulnerable category of people and pay for their education and housing.’
Dr Leddy-Owen, also a trustee of Friends Without Borders, added: ‘It’s heartless to say Portsmouth wants to cut itself off from the rest of the world.’
Portsmouth was designated as a cluster area for the dispersal of asylum seekers in 2000. The aim was to lower the pressure on London and other areas with a high level of refugees.
From April to June 2015, 124 asylum seekers had been housed in Portsmouth – 43 per cent of the south east total.
Cllr Hugh Mason, of the Lib Dems, said: ‘I would agree Portsmouth has taken a huge number of asylum seekers in recent years. However, we are facing a humanitarian crisis and to try and cut ourselves off from that and expel Portsmouth, which is a city with a great heart, would be wrong.
But Cllr Wemyss said: ‘We have taken more than our fair share at the moment, and it imposes costs on local people.
‘Most of our schools are at or near capacity.
‘We haven’t got the space to take more asylum seeking children without creating difficulties for the people who are already here, and that’s not fair.’
Council leader Donna Jones wrote to immigration minister James Brokenshire urging more areas in the south-east be used to take people in.
The Tories will present their argument at a full council debate on Tuesday.