Questions raised over the influx of hundreds of refugees to Luton

Availability of hotels is a factor in their placement

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 11:46 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 12:06 pm

An influx of refugees in Luton needs a detailed investigation into their future prospects and how best to look after them, a meeting heard.

Borough council leader Hazel Simmons in a statement last week (reported here) called on the government to think about the strain being placed on the Luton system.

Labour Lewsey ward councillor Simmons referred to hundreds being "placed here in bridging hotels and in quarantine during the last couple of weeks".

Refugees have arrived in Luton, while volunteers have been sorting clothing for them

But she warned: "We're under a lot of pressure and we don’t want our community’s generosity being taken advantage of."

Liberal Democrat group leader and Barnfield councillor David Franks suggested the need for a report to analyse the situation, during a meeting of the local authority's overview and scrutiny board on September 20.

"It's beginning to become clear that the numbers of refugees coming into the town are on the increase," he explained.

"They're not all from Afghanistan. They're from a lot of other places. And it's time for us to look at a number of issues.

"What's the current accommodation they're being offered? I gather it's hotels paid for by the Home Office. Are they in suitable accommodation?

"What are their future prospects?" he asked. "Does the government intend for them to settle permanently in Luton?

"Or are they going to be pretty much forcibly dispersed? How many unaccompanied children are among them? They need particular care obviously.

"There are plenty of questions around the number of refugees the town is taking and the way they're being cared for and looked after, but not a great deal of information.

"And what are their long-term prospects? We might even want to go and look at some of the accommodation they're in.

"We've seen on some television reports refugees are sometimes put in awful places where nutcases can go and make their life even more unpleasant than it already is. And we clearly want to avoid that."

Corporate director inclusive economy Nicola Monk said: "There are a lot of unknowns from the Home Office currently, so councillor Franks is making some really good points.

"We've got a volume of refugees in the borough in hotels and they're being supported through that process.

"What that looks like in the medium-term there's still a question mark. It's all being directed through the Home Office. They happen to be in Luton because we have hotels being an airport town.

"But I think it's a really good subject for scrutiny to scrutinise. It would be a great task and finish group topic, but I don't know whether we've got the resource to do that.

"I think you need a really inciteful report. We're working through the health, education and to understand all of the needs within that community in hotels in Luton.

"Once that's known and when we get a response from the Home Office around support then it's a better position to come back to scrutiny."

Councillor Franks replied: "It might be interesting to have a report, even if all it does is gives us the basic statistics and outlines some of the outstanding questions."

Liberal Democrat Sundon Park councillor Anna Pedersen, who chairs the board, said: "Then we could look to see whether a task and finish group would be more effective than us asking questions here, and do it a lot more justice."