Opinion: Even for a kind City like ours – enough is enough

Peterborough is a caring and welcoming City. We already support more asylum seekers than any other City or Town in the East of England, writes Peterborough MP Paul Bristow.
Peterborough's  Great Northern Hotel shouldn't be used to house refugees, says city MP Paul Bristow.Peterborough's  Great Northern Hotel shouldn't be used to house refugees, says city MP Paul Bristow.
Peterborough's Great Northern Hotel shouldn't be used to house refugees, says city MP Paul Bristow.

Despite this, two hotels have been stood up to accommodate single men, who have crossed the Channel in small boats.

Even for a kind City like ours – enough is enough.

The Great Northern Hotel is a flagship City Centre venue. It is the wrong hotel, in the wrong location, at the wrong time.

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It’s not right for the young men who have been moved in, not right for our City Centre, not right for the taxpayer, and not right for pre-existing refugees in our City being helped by already stretched resources.

Local charity, the Peterborough Asylum and Refugee Community Association (PARCA), do a fantastic job but it is wrong to ask them to do even more.

SERCO have been contracted by the Home Office to accommodate and support asylum seekers. Each of these individuals – and our pre-existing asylum seeker community – all need induction plans. I have written to SERCO to see what support they plan to give to our City Council, PARCA and public services.

The men themselves are at risk of criminal exploitation. There are healthcare considerations. The City Centre location is problematic.

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SERCO cannot simply transport the individuals to hotels and then drive away.

The Great Northern is 170 years old. It stands next to one of the busiest stations on the East Coast Mainline. It is also within the area earmarked for the Station Quarter Levelling Up Bid. This could mean new station facilities, retail and commercial opportunities.

Effectively turning this hotel into a hostel is not a good move for an area which should be the driving force for Peterborough’s economy.

I have raised this issue in Parliament, directly with Ministers, and in recent media appearances. I will do everything I can to ensure this is not a long-term situation.

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Predictably, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens have already pointed the finger at me talking racism, divisive rhetoric and hatred. This is immature and shows that they would prefer to play politics than support the City Council, the Police, health service professionals, and all those who have expressed concern. Bizarrely, they also support calls to keep news about hotel location secret. So much for transparency, accountability and the free press.

I am the Chair of the APPG on British Muslims, on the Hazara Community, and work with scores of community organisations representing our diverse City. I am a true product of Peterborough. To make this about race, or me, completely misses the point.

Something very different is happening. This is not about families or individuals fleeing persuasion. In the main, this is about criminal gangs and people smuggling. This is widely reported and accepted.

Sadly for Peterborough, for our support services, and for genuine asylum seekers – this situation has hit our City. I will continue to raise this matter at every opportunity. I hope we can come together as one City to make our case. Peterborough already plays its part. We need to make sure this message is heard loud and clear.