The bishop of Leicester has voiced concerns about escalating tensions in the asylum system after a number of community protests were staged outside hotels.
About 30 hotels are being used to house asylum seekers in the East Midlands as the government deals with a huge backlog of cases.
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Bishop Martyn Snow told concerned local residents: “These are human beings with feelings, with a desire for not just safety but to contribute to society”
LeicesterMercury reports: The Yew Lodge Hotel in Kegworth is among the East Midlands hotels being used by the Home Office to house asylum seekers. Some villagers are angry that a place with so few facilities has been chosen for 250 refugees from around the world, and there is also anger that some members of staff have lost their jobs due to the hotel being shut to the public.
On Monday night a group of more than 100 protesters were outside the hotel with placards, chanting and shouting. They also marched on the centre of the village and at one point the road was blocked by Leicestershire Police officers to contain the rally, and one man was arrested for blocking the road.
In comments to the BBC, the bishop said of the asylum seekers in the hotels: “These are human beings with feelings, with a desire for not just safety but to contribute to society. I understand people’s concerns but I hope that through encounters – actually meeting those people – they’ll understand that often these people are very fragile and vulnerable and they are here for very good reasons in most cases.
“I think we’ve become a very polarised society in many ways and it’s so easy to forget that what we’re talking about here is not just an issue. We’re talking about people.”
Monday night’s protest was also attended by about a dozen members of Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity, who formed a counter-protest against the demonstrators. Steve Cook, a representative of the grassroots charity, agrees that the government is not doing the right thing by moving people into a “relatively small” village.
But the group is urging residents to remember the asylum seekers are “not to blame”. Mr Cook said: “We want to support those who may be moving into this hotel because they’ve already suffered a number of traumas on the way to getting here.
“But also, it’s good to talk to the residents who feel very strongly about all of these people moving into Kegworth. And of course, it’s not right that the government is moving so many people into a relatively small village.
“What the government should be doing is dealing with asylum claims quickly, processing them quickly and making sure that those who have a genuine claim for asylum can then get their national insurance number, find a job, start paying taxes and contribute to the British economy, rather than putting them up in a hotel – which is costing them £7 million a day nationally – in Kegworth.”