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Bangor’S Marine Court Hotel has been block-booked by Westminster to house asylum seekers. The refugees started arriving in the seafront hotel, one of the staples of Bangor’s tourism industry, last weekend. It comes after a deal was signed between the hotel and Mears Group, a UK-wide social housing company that the Home Office has contracted to handle asylum accommodation. It’s understood that the deal was approved by the Home Office during the first week of this year, with the first asylum seekers arriving just days later. The 50-room hotel, usually a popular venue for wedding receptions and conferences in addition to its tourist draw, has been block-booked for three months and will be closed to the public for that time – though that deal can reportedly be renewed or extended as needed. It isn’t known how many refugees will be occupying the hotel, though a Mears Group spokeswoman has confirmed that the asylum seekers will be the only guests in the Marine Court, something that’s said to be necessary for ‘health and safety reasons, including Covid-19 arrangements’. ASYLUM SEEKERS ARRIVE IN HOTEL First refugees are now in the Marine Court Hotel The spokeswoman also described the Marine Court as ‘contingency accommodation’, and stated that it would be available for asylum seekers for as long as the Home Office deems it necessary. The arrival of asylum seekers saw an outpouring of kindness from local politicians, who were sure they’d get a typically warm Bangor welcome – and indeed, several volunteer groups and individuals have come forward asking for ways to donate food and clothing to the refugees. However, those same politicians, from local councillors to North Down’s MP, complained that they’d been kept in the dark by the Home Office until hours before the asylum seekers arrived. The lack of communication from central government, they said, not only meant that they couldn’t keep people informed, but also prevented those volunteers from knowing where to turn – and, more damagingly, allowed internet rumour mills and offensive xenophobic fear campaigns to spiral out of control when they could have been nipped in the bud. Some people took to online communities to demand that the asylum seekers be sent away, either to mainland Europe or back to their wartorn country of origin; others made vile sectarian comments about their presumed religion; yet more accused local authorities of being involved in a malevolent conspiracy over the Home Office deal, despite having no evidence of any such supposed sinister motives on anyone’s part. It has become necessary to find extra accommodation for asylum seekers due to the increasing number of people in the UK’s backloghit asylum system, and hotels all over the country are being used on a temporary basis to meet that extra demand. As the Mears Group spokeswoman put it: “Due to the rise in the number of people in the UK asylum system, and the need for the Home Office to secure accommodation for those people just arrived into the UK, Mears is currently providing additional contingency accommodation in hotels in Northern Ireland. “This is in common with the approach across the UK where hotels are currently needed as a contingency. “We have been working very closely and positively with local authorities and with other partners, including health and welfare teams and NGOs to provide support to service users.” Any asylum seekers arriving in the Marine Court will be free to interact with the local community, as long as they have passed any Covid-related quarantine or isolation restrictions. Bangor successfully welcomed groups of asylumseeking families from Syria a few years ago and the town is likely to house Afghan refugees later in 2022, leading local representatives to call for the local community to warmly greet the new arrivals in the Marine Court.