'It looks like asylum seekers are in prison'
Churches in Sandbach have joined in with efforts to support asylum seekers placed at the Chimney House Hotel, amid concerns that there is not enough help for them due to its location.
Almost 60 are believed to have been placed at the hotel by Serco, the company used by the Government to find accommodation for asylum seekers.
It has emerged that local authorities had been approached by the home office to request that asylum seekers are allowed to be accommodated in their areas due to a slowing down of the asylum appeals decision process during the covid-19 pandemic.
Attempts were being made this week to find out what support was available to those being accommodated at the Chimney House, which is closed to guests during the lockdown.
Asha North Staffordshire, a Stoke-on-Trent based charity that helps people seeking refuge from persecution and promotes social inclusion for asylum seekers and refugees, said it was worried that the hotel was “too remote” for residents to access services in Sandbach town centre.
Godefroid Seminega, Ash North Staffordshire's services manager, told the Chronicle: “My big concern is that it looks like they are in prison, because nobody can get in contact with them. They are in a very remote area with no connection with the local community or people from the same background.
“We do not have a third party to check if they are well and if they want to raise any concerns.
“We are also worried about their health, as nobody knows if they are registered with a GP and what measures have been put in place to protect them from the dreadful virus, or what is the situation in relation to their future asylum issues.”
Mr Seminega said his details were passed to a Serco manager but on Friday he had still not heard anything, even thought Serco promised to get in touch.
The Chronicle reported last week that a member of staff at the hotel said 49 asylum seekers were staying there while Mr Seminega was told there were 58.
Patrick Darnes, of Churches Together Sandbach, said it was offering to provide some support to the asylum seekers.
He said: “One of the members is liaising with Serco and we are in touch with Asha. We are trying to marry them together.
“It's a sensitive issue. One of the problems with this area is we've not got the resources locally to deal with them.
“The hotel is like on an island. It is not a good to walk from there into Sandbach because there is no pavement.”
Mr Darnes added: “We are trying to offer a lifeline to them and signpost them to organisations that can help. The hotel does not want people phoning up.
“But we don't want people there who are going to get bored, and we are trying to work with other agencies.”
He said: “The hotel is not wanting to make any comment, quite rightly. It's getting a communication system going with the asylum seekers, that's what is needed.”
Mr Darnes said: “We don't know whether these people have medical needs, are they registered with a GP, have they got a human rights lawyer?
“The Government does not really liaise with the local authority, which seems a bit bizarre. It's not been easy and Cheshire East Council will not share sensitive information.
“What we need to know is that they have got the support they need. We want to make sure these people are not left in limbo.
“We need to gather information about them - what is their age range? Do they need spiritual help? If they are Muslim do they need support from a mosque? “We are working on supplying toiletries to them; they get fed at the hotel.
“We don't know where they are from or if they can speak English.”
Sandbach Heath and East councillor Sam Corcoran, leader of Cheshire East Council, said: “I share the concerns of Asha. Sadly, following a decision by central government earlier this year, Cheshire East Council has no direct role in the asylum seekers dispersal programme.
“I am pleased that local churches are trying to support the asylum seekers placed at the Chimney House and hope that Serco will respond. I am disappointed that Serco has not responded to Asha.”
Coun Corcoran said he would not describe the Chimney House Hotel as “very remote” but added: “It is certainly not easily accessible for pedestrians as there is no footpath to the site and walking along the A534 is hazardous. This makes The Chimney House Hotel a poor choice of site for housing people who don't have cars and may need to access medical facilities and buy toiletries.”
Serco said it was not involved in the decision making process of which areas of the country asylum seekers were placed in and that it was Serco's role to provide accommodation once that decision was taken.
When asked about why the Chimney House Hotel was chosen, a spokesman said: “You will appreciate that we are not going to give details of how we reach these decisions.”
They added: “The asylum seekers that we are accommodating are a mixture of families, children and single people, and they come from many different countries, including areas suffering war and famine.”
They said Serco's contact team would be in touch with Asha shortly.
Cheshire Police said it was not directly involved in the placement of asylum seekers in Sandbach.
A Cheshire East Council spokesperson said: “The council has no direct role in the asylum seekers dispersal programme. The programme is for those who arrive in the UK where their status is to be determined following the submission of an application for asylum.
“A decision was taken by Parliament, earlier this year, that participation in the asylum seekers dispersal programme is no longer voluntary for local authorities.
“While we do not have a direct role or control over the programme, we do liaise with Government representatives, regional provider organisations and other local public services agencies regarding the programme.” The Talash Group, which runs the hotel, has been asked to comment but had not responded by the Chronicle’s deadline yesterday (Wednesday).