CONCERNS AFTER SECOND HOTEL PROTEST

ONGOING protests outside a Bangor hotel housing asylum seekers ‘do not represent the views held by the majority of the local community’ it has been claimed this week.
Monika Ciok-Giertuga, chair of the Bangor Asylum Working Group, said they were ‘very concerned’ after a second protest was held outside the Marine Court Hotel last weekend.
Some of the protestors covered their faces with scarves and carried placards stating, ‘we are not racists, we are concerned residents’ and ‘stop the boats, report the criminals and close the hotels now’.
The hotel, which has been used to house refugees since the start of last year, is one of three premises in the borough that is providing accommodation to both families and individuals in need.
“They (the protestors) do not represent the views held by the majority of the local community who have been very supportive,” said Ms Ciok-Giertuga.
“They have been bringing clothing and shoes to the hotel and they are keen to support the refugees. We have also had a retired English teacher ask ‘how can I help’. There are a lot of voices of support.”
The Bangor Asylum Working Group, which consists of representatives of church groups, the YMCA and Ards and North Down Council, is keen to highlight the local support life-line offered to asylum seekers.
Set up in January last year, the Working Group has provided clothing and shoes, English and art classes as well as football sessions and volunteering opportunities for asylum seekers who have been housed locally.
The Working Group says it is also keen to dispel misinformation surrounding asylum seekers who are seeking protection from a number of threats such as war, natural disasters and persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and fleeing domestic violence.
Said Ms Ciok-Giertuga: “The Working Group was set up just before the new year (in 2022) when community organisations got together to see how we could support the residents.”
“An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking protection because their own country failed to provide that protection. This could be because of war as seen in Syria or Afghanistan.
“It can also be because of political and religious persecution or gender based because of their sexual orientation. It can also be to escape domestic violence, as in some countries it can be very difficult to escape a violent partner because the law is not on their side.
“It can also be because of natural disasters such as flooding,” she added.
Addressing protestors’ concerns about asylum seekers being vetted, she said: “Mears accommodation for asylum seekers is provided on referral from the Home Office, who are responsible for processing asylum claims, including considering the personal circumstances and background of applicants.”
Once an asylum seeker has applied to stay in the United Kingdom as a refugee, a decision on their application will take around six months. The UK government’s information website: www.gov.uk, states asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their claim is being considered.
Regarding financial support, the government website states that asylum seekers whose accommodation provides their meals will receive £9.10 per week or, if meals are not provided, an asylum seeker will receive £45 per week.
“The asylum seekers in the (Marine Court) hotel are single males who have been given a roof over their head and food, but they are not allowed to work and are given £9 per week for personal expenses,” said Ms Ciok-Giertuga.
“They are very happy to take volunteering opportunities as they are not allowed to work. They are not stealing benefits, the money they are receiving is from the Home Office.”
She explained that asylum seekers have no choice where they are housed saying: “The majority of asylum seekers are from Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan, but there has been quite a lot of movement in the hotel.
“They have very little control, they do not choose to come here. The Home Office decides where they are sent, it could be Belfast or England. Then within 24 to 28 hours, they get very little notice that they are being transferred somewhere else. They don’t have a choice, they are told to go.”
A council spokesperson said the local authority received funding via The Executive Office, as the lead Executive department for the Home Office Full Dispersal funding, to enhance support services for asylum seekers in Ards and North Down until March 2024.
“Funding will be used to support the wraparound support centre for asylum seekers which is managed by the YMCA North Down on behalf of Ards and North Down Borough Council,” said a council spokesman.
“Funding will also be used to support community projects which help and support those who are asylum seekers in our borough.”