Deal averts threat of doubling asylum seeker numbers in Blackburn
A DEAL averting the threat of the number of asylum seekers coming to Blackburn and Darwen doubling has been struck after months of talks.
Council chiefs and Blackburn MP Jack Straw were alarmed that the total of refugees sent to the borough could rise from 350 to 700 by the end of the year putting ‘intolerable strain’ on social cohesion and public services.
The fears were provoked by a change in the management of the system which gave responsibility for resettling asylum seekers in the town to private company SERCO, instead of the borough council.
This could have allowed the firm to bring up to a legal maximum of 700 into the town, instead of the current 350.
As the Lancashire Telegraph reported in June, Mr Straw was sufficiently alarmed to write to Home Secretary Theresa May on the issue. Now he, the council, SERCO and the Home Office have reached ‘an understanding’ that the numbers will not rise without the borough and Mrs May approving any rise.
The giant company has also agreed to consult the council on where asylum seekers are placed, and ensure that new refugees only come to the borough when previous ones leave.
One source close to the talks said although it failed to alter the legal maximum, it was a binding ‘gentlemen’s agreement’.
A report to the full council forum tomorrow says: “SERCO has commenced procuring properties in the private rented sector to house the asylum seekers.
“This process is subject to stringent checks by the council to ensure that the locations are acceptable and that the overall number of asylum seekers is not increased.”
Mr Straw said: “We have reached an understanding that SERCO will not increase the numbers of asylum seekers coming to Blackburn without the council and the Home Secretary’s approval. The council will also have a say in where they go.
“I am satisfied that the arrangement is adequate.
“Everyone has agreed that the total in Blackburn with Darwen will not go above the 350 we have at the moment. That is the reality of the new deal.”
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: “Any proposal by accommodation providers to introduce more asylum seekers into an area would have to be agreed by us.
“This would clearly involve discussions with local councils and other agencies to ensure community safety and the impact on the area is taken into account.”