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West Midlands councils in High Court challenge over bid to exit voluntary asylum dispersal scheme

Seven West Midlands councils have launched a legal challenge against the Home Office over the voluntary asylum dispersal scheme for future asylum seekers.

In a statement the councils – Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, City of Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent – said repeated attempts to urge the Home Secretary to immediately review and reform the current system had failed.

“We were therefore left with no alternative but to inform the Home Office of our collective decision to suspend our partnership in the voluntary asylum dispersal scheme for future asylum seekers. The Home Office has contested this decision and we have, as a result, taken legal action through the High Court in Birmingham to resolve this issue,” the statement said.

The statement sets out the councils' grievances. “Based on [these], our fundamental case is that we volunteered in good faith and as such should be free to leave in good faith – given the scheme’s shortcomings.”

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The councils added that “failing to respect our decision is an irrational, undemocratic abuse of power – volunteering authorities should have the same rights as those that have previously never volunteered and still refuse to do so”.

The seven authorities said that whilst they would continue to support the Afghan refugee asylum programme, changes must be made to the original voluntary asylum dispersal scheme.

They stressed that they were committed to continuing their role in providing safe refuge and a positive future for those seeking or granted asylum, but the level of this must be proportionate and reasonable. “In reality, this will only be achieved by the Government taking the action we have requested.”

The seven councils said that, in recent years and months, it had become clear to them that the national system was flawed and needed fixing.

“Our fundamental issue is that it simply is not right that a small proportion of mainly urban councils in the UK are playing a role in addressing the huge challenge this country is currently facing due to the unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers and refugees arriving in the UK,” they suggested.

“The majority of other councils, many in significantly more affluent areas, despite repeated requests, are simply not stepping-up and playing their part in responding to the challenges we face and the unfolding humanitarian crisis related to the numbers of new asylum seekers arriving daily into the UK and those who have recently fled Afghanistan.”

The councils said they believed that Government should immediately require, “not simply request”, every single local authority in the UK to make an offer to accommodate a proportionate share of those seeking asylum in this country or welcoming into their community those who have the right to remain in the UK, unless there are compelling reasons why this cannot happen. 

“This must include full funding to meet locally determined and delivered housing and public services, including wider health, community, social care, education and employment support,” the statement said.

The seven councils warned that the consequences of this not happening were placing even more demands on areas like theirs that had disproportionately carried this burden – “and that cannot continue”.  

The statement said: “Those seeking refuge are individuals and families who have suffered greatly in war-torn and oppressive countries, often undertaking huge struggle just to reach these shores.  When they arrive, we all have a responsibility to ensure they are accommodated into suitable accommodation with the vital local support services that they so desperately need put in place beforehand – sadly that’s not the experience in our region.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of welcoming and supporting those in need of our protection. The Government is committed to doing everything necessary to protect the rights of asylum seekers and provide them with the safe, secure accommodation they deserve.

“We are working closely with our accommodation providers to increase the amount of Dispersed Accommodation available to us. We need the support of local authorities to do that and we are committed to working with them.”

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