Politics blamed for refugee violence
THE JOURNAL (Newcastle, UK)
May 12, 2000,
BYLINE: by Neil Mckay chief Reporter
POLITICALLY-motivated Iraqi refugees have been blamed for trouble at a Tyneside hostel where asylum seekers are housed. Five residents of the Angel Heights hostel in Westgate Road, Newcastle, were arrested for criminal damage during a night of violence on Wednesday when 40 windows were broken, furniture and crockery smashed. Last month, police and councillors warned in The Journal that the policy could be a recipe for trouble. Page 145 Police called out to refugee hostel – Asylum seekers’ tensions flare THE JOURNAL (Newcastle, UK) January 18, 2001, Thursday Newcastle city councillor Nigel Todd said then: “Having 200 young men placed in a hostel with nothing to do, and without prior consultation with the local populace, is a far from satisfactory state of affairs.” Following the arrests, fellow Iraqis held an outdoor sit-down protest demanding their countrymen be released from police custody. This ended with another arrest of one refugee for breach of the peace. The men are among almost 200 asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan dispersed to the North-East under a private agreement between Kent County Council and the Angel Group, which accommodates refugees across Britain. Recently fire extinguishers were discharged and toilets wrecked, causing £860-worth of damage, in the hostel, a former nurses’ home opposite Newcastle General Hospital. To pay for the damage the men’s weekly allowance was reduced from £7 to £5 and this is believed to have sparked the trouble. Local care worker Jamshid Ahmadi, a member of the Northern Regional Assembly, has been in close contact with the asylum seekers and said: “These are educated men, many are graduates, who have been persecuted in their own country and have had to flee to Britain in fear of their lives, leaving behind their families. “In a civilised democracy they should be entitled to basic standards of living but instead they feel they have left one dictatorship for another. They have been dispersed here and just left. Their files are being dealt with in Dover and no-one up here knows what is going on, there is no liaison and they feel increasingly isolated.” Mr Ahmadi believes the men are entitled to a minimum asylum seeker’s allowance of £36 a week but said at Angel Heights they have been receiving just £7 weekly, which was reduced to £5. “They receive no further benefit, do not have access to newspapers, the food is not nutritious, they are for- bidden from getting jobs and visitors are not allowed,” he said. But staff at Angel Heights stress that the men are free to come and go at will. Julia Davey, managing director of the Angel Group, says under the total care package they operate for Kent County Council the refugees are not entitled to any cash but she herself instigated the paying of £7 a week pocket money. Her company has invested tens of thousands of pounds in upgrading the former nurses’ accommodation. Most rooms provide single, centrally heated accommodation and there are three TV rooms, one for each nationality. A computer room allows access to the Internet, computers are dual English/Arabic and software is being installed to allow programmes to run in Iraqi. There is a tennis court, a five-a-side Astroturf pitch is about to be laid, and refugees have free use of Newcastle City Council sports facilities. She said: “There are a minority of politically motivated refugees who are behind this trouble. I believe about 12, mainly Iraqis, were involved. Some have been arrested and police are interviewing the others. They will not be allowed back in Angel Heights. Causing damage is totally unacceptable, although I would stress they were a minority. “To describe conditions as a prison is ridiculous. The accommodation was good enough for nurses. The food is supplied by award winning caterers …” Six men, aged between 21 and 46, have been charged with violent disorder and are due to appear before Newcastle magistrates this morning.