Portsmouth takes quarter of south’s asylum seekers

NO IMPACT Councillor Steven Wylie
NO IMPACT Councillor Steven Wylie

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CALLS have been made for asylum seekers to be spread more evenly across the country after it was revealed Portsmouth houses a quarter of those in the south east.

Figures for the first three quarters of last year show that an average of 26 per cent of the region’s asylum seekers were given temporary housing in Portsmouth by the Home Office.

From July to September this means 132 people – out of an area-wide total of 522 – were allowed to stay in the city while their claims for asylum were considered.

This has led councillors from both Portsmouth’s largest parties to question whether they should be distributed more widely, putting less pressure on one area’s public services.

Conservative housing spokesman Cllr Lee Mason said: ‘We’re short of housing in Portsmouth and we have a high population density, so anything that takes away housing from people in the city will have an impact.

‘It will impact heavily on schools, especially if the children don’t have good English.

‘I’ve spoken to a teacher in Portsmouth who told me she has nine different languages spoken in her classroom.

‘There can also be pressure put on the health services, because some asylum seekers may have had no access to healthcare.

‘We need to be sharing them out around the whole country, rather than creating these pressure points.’

Cllr Steven Wylie, Lib Dem cabinet member for housing, said he thought the numbers were too small to be definitely having an impact.

‘It is not affecting social housing because they are given private accommodation by the Home Office,’ he said.

‘But they should be allocated in a way that best suits the needs of the asylum seekers and the needs of the community.

‘I don’t think we should take on an unfair level.’

Mike Brown, the manager of the city’s branch of Refugee Action – which provides support for asylum seekers – said numbers had fallen across the country over the last 10 years.

He said: ‘Grouping asylum seekers together in cities means they can have all the essential services they need within reach, rather than spreading them around the countryside where they won’t receive any support.

‘They receive £40 a week from the government and that is all spent in our local area.

‘So even though there are a tiny amount in Portsmouth they are still providing an economic benefit.’