I am disappointed that the Home Office have determined that the Hampton by Hilton is an appropriate location to house asylum seekers. As such, I have met with the Immigration Minister and Officials in the Home Office.
I completely accept it is essential that accommodation is provided for those who have entered this country, some 45,000 last year alone, hence why the UK Government is providing alternative accommodation as a matter of urgency. It is also why we are proceeding with our Illegal Migration Bill, to stop the vicious and pernicious trade in human life that is taking place in the Channel.
It is frustrating that Labour and the Scottish National Party do not support us on either of these aims. We must stem the flow of boats and free up space in the asylum system so we can deal, in a quicker and more efficient manner, with genuine asylum claims. This will enable us to provide safer and legal routes, and to stop the use of hotels in communities across the UK to house claimants.
I expressed my discontent also to Aberdeenshire Council and sought to be allowed to attend their preparation and planning meetings. This was in order to establish the level of support that Council officials, local police and other services will be offering to the claimants who will be staying in Westhill. Sadly, I was refused access to these meetings – in spite of the fact I knew people, like yourself, would appreciate up-to-date information from your MP on the situation.
As I said, I agree this an inappropriate location to house asylum seekers.
My concerns specifically relate to facility provision for residents. Specifically, GP and pharmacy provision remain a real and reoccurring issue in Westhill. My understanding is that this demographic of asylum seekers has about 5% presentation at the GP. That is a monumental overnight increase to a surgery that is already under stress. I am concerned that this increase in patient numbers will have a negative impact on waiting times for the population of Westhill. Furthermore, recently there have been significant delays at the two Westhill pharmacies. Residents of Westhill have been waiting for significantly extended periods to receive basic medicine. There is no doubt that an increase in patient numbers of this magnitude will exacerbate the already long waiting times.
Furthermore, there are no banking facilities in Westhill, only one pub, and only one main shopping area. There is a swimming pool and a privately managed sports centre. There is a sincere lack of facilities for the current residents of Westhill, let alone an influx of 173 more. I am very concerned that there will be nothing within walking distance for these individuals to do. I have raised to Aberdeenshire Council that Aberdeen would be much more appropriate city to host asylum seekers.
I am urgently following up with the Home Office to determine the length of time these asylum seekers will be housed at Westhill. I am also engaging with local Councillors, whilst also seeking to be allowed to attend council led meetings on this issue, so as to ensure the Council is fully aware and appraised of community sentiment.
Ensuring your voice is heard firmly by Aberdeenshire Council is my priority. As a result, and with your permission, I will be relaying your correspondence to the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council.
Engaging with the community on a matter of this importance is critical.
I am doing all that I can to ensure that the asylum seekers are rehoused in a more appropriate location. As I have outlined, I firmly believe Westhill and the Hampton by Hilton is a totally unsuitable location.