Here is how many asylum seekers are living in Calderdale as council asked to become a 'Council of Sanctuary'

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More than 700 people seeking asylum in the UK are living in Calderdale, latest figures show.

In the last 12 to 18 months, numbers of asylum seekers coming to the borough have increased by nearly 80 per cent – partly due to the Government decision to empty the Manston centre in Kent, councillors have heard.

The former RAF base in Southern England had been intended to hold up to 1,600 people, but there were around 4,000 migrants at one point in late October.

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In Calderdale, there are 495 people living in dispersed housing and 210 in hotels.

View of Halifax, from Beacon HillView of Halifax, from Beacon Hill
View of Halifax, from Beacon Hill

These include 32 people across ten families under the Syrian and Sudanese resettlement scheme, 30 people across seven families from the Afghan resettlement scheme and 152 people – with 224 expected – from the Homes For Ukraine programme, Calderdale Council’s neighbourhoods and cohesion manager Kirsten Fussing said.

The council also looks after a number of unaccompanied children.

Place Scrutiny Board members had asked for a report on asylum provision in Calderdale and a majority agreed to recommend to the council’s Cabinet that the borough becomes a Council of Sanctuary to better help asylum seekers after hearing about their heartbreaking plight from St Augustine’s Centre and Ms Fussing.

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The charity St Augustine’s Centre, based in Halifax, provides support for people forced to flee their home country through no fault of their own.

Director of St Augustine’s Centre Sara Robinson said: “If any one of us has to flee our homeland because our houses were bombed, or we’d watched our parents being murdered for opposing a fascist regime, or we knew we’d be jailed for life for our religion or our sexuality, we would hope there would be somewhere in the world that we could go to, to rebuild our lives.”

Ms Fussing told councillors people seeking asylum – except from Ukraine - were not allowed to work, with people in “dispersed” accommodation – where they catered for themselves – given £40.85 a week, rising this year to £45, to live off.

People in “contingency” accommodation - usually hotels but also other larger buildings where food was provided – were only given £8 each per week, rising this year to £9.10, she said.

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The money is provided via plastic card which has a Visa symbol and can only be spent in shops with a Visa sign – while it is possible to draw cash from it in some cases, this is not straightforward, she said.

Ms Robinson said: “There is frustration they are not allowed to pay their way and a lot have significant skills - surgeons, cooks, nurses, drivers, IT whizz kids.”

In Calderdale the first hotel opened in late summer 2019 for 23 people, joined by a second at Christmas 2021 for 110 and a third for 40 people in July 2022.

Councillors heard from Ms Robinson that a major problem was the low number – nationally only four per cent last year – of asylum claims being processed, causing numbers to build.

Key pressures on asylum seekers here included risk of people ending up in modern slavery, community tensions, housing, funding uncertainty and racism, said Ms Fussing.