Why do we house refugees in hostile areas?

Two police officers, one male and one female, stand against green railings, behind which is a purple sign with "Almondbury Community School, Fernside Centre" in white and yellow writing.This week a video was circulated on social media of a Syrian refugee boy, named Jamal, with his arm in a cast being attacked in a park in Huddersfield by a group of boys and having water poured over him. It has transpired that the boy and his sister have been bullied by teenagers at the same school in Huddersfield; the sister is reported to have attempted to kill herself in the school toilets and another video shows a girl tearing her hijab off her head. The boy, whose Facebook profile was allegedly full of posts supporting “Tommy Robinson” and Britain First (the posts have since been removed), was supposed to have been charged with assault but media reports say he has fled the country, but the Far Right, including “Tommy Robinson”, have circulated rumours that Jamal was himself a bully, but the picture used to ‘prove’ this was in fact extracted from a Daily Mirror story about a boy in Surrey. This morning’s Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2 covered the story an interviewed two men who work for the Syrian refugee community, one of whom mentioned that after he was settled in Sunderland, his home was vandalised repeatedly by local racists.

The UK has a policy, since 1999, of dispersing asylum seekers away from London and the South East so as to relieve pressure on local authorities, since this is where the majority of asylum seekers made their claims as this is where people landed when they entered the UK (and the main Home Office centre for processing visa applications is in Croydon). It is no secret that in much of the north there is a lot of empty housing stock, the main reason being that there are no longer the jobs to employ local people. Ever since then there have been periodic complaints that asylum seekers are being housed on “sink estates” and other areas where there is a lot of crime, vandalism and racism; even where dispersal was not an issue, a person with obvious differences such as race or disability can become an easy target for local criminals and bigots, as with the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, who was targeted by locals with false accusations, vandalism and violence, ending, in 2013, in murder, by neighbours in Bristol while the police and local council treated him as an attention seeker.

In most big towns in Yorkshire and the north-west of England, there are areas with a high Asian Muslim population, with schools that reflect that. The media are fond of calling them ghettoes and blaming them for ‘radicalisation’, but any area where an asylum seeker or refugee’s religion or culture are well catered for is preferable to an area where it is not, let alone where people of that culture or religion who already live locally will not set foot, and indeed where the people making these policies — mostly white and middle class — will not set foot either, even if the latter is cheaper, for the reasons already mentioned. The school the victims in this case attended (Almondbury Community School) is majority white although it does have a large minority of minority-ethnic pupils; in its last Ofsted report (2017), pupils were reporting that bullying was rare, but it also mentioned that behaviour “requires improvement” and that disruption was often linked to unchallenging lessons; the behaviour went unchallenged by teachers. Apart from its nursery, the school’s rating was “requires improvement”, as it was in 2015. While pictures of the school do show diversity, Muslims do not seem to be well-represented.

The whole point of asylum is to provide refuge to people fleeing war or persecution. It defeats the object of that if they are forced to live in areas where they are liable to be attacked because of their origin or religion, or their houses damaged, or their children forced into schools in the same attitudes prevail. As with other kinds of bigotry (e.g. myths about rape such as that victims were asking for it), children pick their attitudes up from their parents and if they hear parents or other adults talking about foreigners, immigrants or others who are different in derogatory ways or repeating falsehoods they have gleaned from tabloids, talk radio or social media, then they will pick these attitudes up themselves. People who have suffered persecution or torture or experienced the violence of war must not be forced to live in areas where they will be subject to further violence. It is not much better than sending them home, which itself is against international law.

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