UK charities have warned that the disorder seen in Knowsley at the weekend could be repeated across the country unless political leaders “take a clear stand” and condemn violence against asylum seekers.
An open letter has been signed by more than 100 organisations after “horrifying” scenes outside a Merseyside hotel housing asylum seekers on Friday, in which fireworks were thrown at officers and a police van was attacked with hammers and set alight.
Coalition campaign Together With Refugees co-ordinated the letter, which criticised “inflammatory language” and policies that “demonise” people seeking refuge, and warned of a “high risk of more premeditated extremist attacks around the country” after the violence outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, north-west England.
The letter had more than 100 signatories, including Liverpool City of Sanctuary, Care4Calais, Share Knowsley and the Refugee Council.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has faced repeated criticism for her rhetoric describing migrants crossing the English Channel.
She prompted an outcry in November when she told MPs that the south coast was facing an “invasion” of illegal migrants.
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The charities said people in the asylum system had “already suffered terribly”, fleeing war and persecution in places such as Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Iran.
Describing Britain’s asylum system as “broken”, the organisations said people were forced into a period of “limbo” as they waited for a decision on their claim to stay in the UK and often ended up in hotels which they called “a completely inappropriate form of accommodation”.
The charities called on those in charge to “create a system that is fair and compassionate and brings cohesion instead of division”.
“Having already experienced great hardship, these men, women and children who come here for protection are now faced with violence, fuelled by inflammatory language of ‘invasion’ and policies that demonise them," they said.
“The responsibility to create a system that is fair and compassionate and brings cohesion instead of division lies with our decision-makers.
“With the high risk of more premeditated extremist attacks around the country, leaders of all parties must now take a clear stand and condemn any further violence against those who come here to find safety and set out the action they will take to prevent it.”
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The charities said those responsible for inciting anger and violence brought “shame on this country” and were in the minority.
“This does not reflect the people of Britain. This is not who we are," they added.
Ewan Roberts, centre manager of Asylum Link Merseyside, said his area had a “proud history of welcoming refugees and the horrifying incident on Friday night does not represent the people of Knowsley”.
“The people staying in temporary accommodation came to us seeking our help and instead had the experience of being under siege by a violent mob," he said.
“We urge politicians to stop using rhetoric that fuels such hatred, condemn this violence and start doing the real work of clearing the backlog instead.”
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Former refugee Sabir Zazai, who is now chairman of Together With Refugees — a coalition of more than 500 national and local organisations — said the issue was not about party politics but rather “basic human decency”.
“The very least all political leaders could do is to condemn the attack on people seeking sanctuary in our communities," he said.
“Leaders of all political parties must call for the ending of these hostile policies and hateful language that only fuels division and anger.”
Fifteen people were arrested during a demonstration outside the hotel in Knowsley on Friday, including a man who appeared in court on Monday charged with violent disorder and assault by beating of an emergency services worker.
Jared Skeete, 19, of Irwell Close, Aigburth, Liverpool, was remanded in custody to appear before Liverpool Crown Court on March 13.
The remaining 12 men and two women, most of whom are from the Knowsley area, were conditionally bailed pending the outcome of police inquiries.