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Bishop of Blackburn's concerns over asylum seeker plan
THE Bishop of Blackburn has backed Jack Straw and the borough council’s concerns over the possible doubling of asylum seekers coming to the town under a new management system.
The Rt Rev Nicholas Reade spoke out as representatives from Serco, the private company taking over the ‘dispersal’ contract from the local authority, and the UK Borders Agency prepare to visit the town.
They will meet officials from Blackburn with Darwen Council tomorrow before going on to be questioned by asylum seekers settled here under a previous arrangement between the Home Office and the local authority.
MP Mr Straw, who in government struck the original deal in 2000 capping the numbers at 700, has urged Home Secretary Theresa May to reduce that limit to the 350 currently in the borough which council leader Kate Hollern and officials think is enough.
He has also asked her to ensure that the authority has final control of where new asylum seekers are placed, because of issues of social cohesion in the town.
Bishop Reade said: “Asylum seekers are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society.
“While their claim to asylum is being investigated, it is important they are given a welcome and the necessary support.
“This needs to be done in a well-managed way that does not overwhelm the resources of any particular community.
“I am proud of the way in which both the council and the people of Blackburn with Darwen have welcomed asylum seekers living amongst us in recent years. I share some of the concerns expressed by Mr Straw and by councillors, that a sudden doubling in numbers being sent to live here could stretch resources beyond capacity.
“This would not only be to the detriment of permanent residents but also to asylum seekers themselves.”
Vin Purcell, who works for Blackburn Cathedral with the Children’s Society and the local Methodist church supporting the asylum seekers as they settle in the town, has organised tomorrow’s meeting.
He said: “Serco can expect some very searching questions from the asylum seekers about the new arrange- ments.
“There is great concern among them and those of us who work with them that they might make things worse rather than better.”