THE UK Government must do more to support the large number of asylum seekers given shelter in Dumfries and Galloway, a councillor argued this week.
Abbey Ward Councillor Kim Lowe is fully behind the region playing its part to aid vulnerable asylum seekers, but insists that Dumfries and Galloway Council is bearing the heavy responsibility with no support from Westminster.
The SNP councillor has spoken out after 57 asylum seekers arrived at the Mercure Hotel on the outskirts of Dumfries last month.
The four-star hotel reopened at the start of the year and was swiftly identified by the Home Office and its third party agency Mears as a location to house asylum seekers.
There are now more than 500 asylum seekers – Syrian, Afghan, and Ukrainian – spread across the region. The administration and support provided by the council has placed strain on its already-stretched social work department.
Councillor Lowe is putting forward a motion at next Wednesday’s full council meeting demanding that the UK Government provide sufficient resources to the council.
It reads: “Whilst this council appreciates and understands the need to support asylum seekers and we recognise our statutory obligation to safeguard, this cannot come at a cost to those already in the region.
“This obligation at the Mercure Hotel, Dumfries, was foisted on Dumfries and Galloway with no warning or consultation.
“It has been universally recognised that when Dumfries and Galloway has been asked to contribute, we have done so willingly.
“This latest cohort of highly vulnerable asylum seekers has come with no support from the UK Government or their third party agent.
“The knock-on effect has seen already stretched local services being put under immeasurable strain, with staff having to be taken from vital front-line duties to deal with a variety of scenarios.”
She continued: “This council must recognise the pressure placed on council and partner teams, both in terms of budget but more especially the health and wellbeing of the staff groups concerned.
“How will we respond if our core services, minus those being used for asylum seekers, cannot cope with our statutory duty to protect?
“Dumfries and Galloway Council should ascertain both the money cost and the staff impact and lobby the Westminster Government to compensate Dumfries and Galloway Council either directly or through their third-party agent to allow this council to return to a budget situation where the extra care for the asylum seekers becomes cost neutral.”
A council report on the matter confirmed that several temporary staff posts have been created across a number of council departments to deal with the demand for asylum seeker support.
Community services, economy and development, people and transformation, schools services and social work services are jointly supporting 48 Syrians, 12 Afghans, and 452 Ukrainians.
The men at Mercure Hotel will be housed there for up to a year due to “significant pressures” in dealing with asylum claims across the UK.
Dumfries and Galloway Council was not involved in the decision-making process.