From Diane Taylor in The Guardian, 27 September 2018:

Some asylum seekers have been banned from accommodation in north-east England because of “social cohesion issues” and far-right activity, a move lawyers have described as “discriminatory”, the Guardian has learned.

Details of the ban emerged in a note from the Home Office to an asylum seeker’s solicitor, in which the department said that it had an agreement with local authorities in that region not to house any “foreign nationals with known criminality”.

However, sources close to Home Office contractors providing asylum accommodation in the region said that some councils refused their requests to house any asylum seekers because of local far-right activity.

The North East Migration Partnership, an organisation which includes local authorities, confirmed there were concerns around social cohesion when sending asylum seekers to the region.

“There have been a number of different concerns raised by local authorities in the north-east, some of which relate to social cohesion matters highlighted by local policing teams. It would not be appropriate to comment on specific issues or areas.”

Earlier this year Julie Elliott, the Labour MP for Sunderland Central , also wrote to the home secretary to ask the Home Office to stop sending asylum seekers to the north-east due to “tensions” in the area.

Elliott referred to tensions linked to the commission of “very serious criminal offences” as justification for her request for a temporary suspension.

There has been a recent surge in far-right activity in the area linked to a new organisation called Justice for the Women and Children, which protests on the issue of rape with a focus on Muslims linked to sex offences. The organisation recently marched with the far-right Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) at a rally condemning incidents of sexual violence.

The ban came to light after a solicitor complained to the Home Office that his client, a man who had claimed and been refused asylum, who had committed a criminal offence and been assessed by the Home Office to be at risk due to mental health problems, was still locked up six months after a court had ordered he be released on bail.

A note from the Home Office to the solicitor stated: “On 2 May 2018 a property was offered by G4S in the Newcastle area. However, due to an agreement between the Home Office and local authorities in the north-east region to not house any foreign nationals with known criminality in the north-east because of ongoing social cohesion issues in the area, the property request was cancelled with G4S (the Home Office’s accommodation provider in the area) on 25 May 2018.”

Niall Hodson, a local Liberal Democrat councillor, condemned Elliott for “scapegoating” asylum seekers. “It’s a very dangerous path to take. They say they are speaking on behalf of the people of Sunderland but they do not speak for the majority.”

Sheroy Zaq, of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, whose client was detained for six months longer than necessary as a result of the policy, said: “The existence of this agreement must be seen as the home secretary bowing down to the repugnant, Islamophobic demands of the far right.

“To use ‘social cohesion’ as a reason for depriving foreign nationals of their liberty is squarely discriminatory and as such we are challenging this agreement on exactly that basis.”

Mike Hartman, of the Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association, said: “We believe the greatest threat to social cohesion in the north-east comes from the extreme right, evidenced by the recent violence at a DFLA and Justice for Women demonstration in Sunderland. Under the guise of protecting women and children, they stir up and incite hatred of Muslims.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Home Office takes the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live extremely seriously. We are also committed to working closely with local partners, including local authorities and the police, to identify, manage and prevent welfare and cohesion problems.

“There is no such policy of not housing asylum seekers in areas where the EDL (or other similar organisations) have a strong presence. Local authorities across the north-east continue to participate in the asylum dispersal scheme – however, we have paused dispersal of foreign national offenders in the region whilst we review the national distribution of such cases.”

Elliott and Sunderland council have been approached for comment.

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