Sunday, October 10, 2010

Asylum seekers last in the housing queue: Britain's biggest council decides to put its locals first

The largest council in the country is to stop providing homes for asylum seekers – so it can offer the properties to locals. Birmingham City Council said last night that it had seen a surge in the number of existing residents who found themselves homeless in the aftermath of the economic slump.

Currently, nearly 200 homes are handed to asylum seekers who have been sent to the city while their applications are being processed by the UK Border Agency. But the council is to cancel its contract with UKBA so the homes can instead be given to those who hail from the city.

Councillor John Lines, Birmingham’s cabinet member for housing, said the decision was ‘in the interests of local people’. He explained that the council expects nearly 8,000 applications for homes this year alone.

‘Over the last year, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of homeless people in Birmingham and we must help the citizens of this city first and foremost,’ he said. ‘With a long waiting list for homes, we really need all our properties for our people in these difficult economic times. I believe the UK Border Agency should find somewhere else to carry out their duties.’

Mr Lines said delays within UKBA meant hundreds of asylum seekers were obtaining British citizenship while they waited for their cases to be decided. ‘When they have been given citizenship the city of Birmingham has to treat them as citizens and give them one of our rare homes,’ he added. ‘I’m putting hundreds of Brummies in bed and breakfast, local people who possibly through no fault of their own are homeless.

‘I couldn’t sit here and allow the situation where Birmingham people have had to tolerate that whilst the border agency has got up to 200 of my homes for people who have come here for political asylum.’

Under the five-year contract, the council provided 190 properties to asylum seekers, but with turnover it meant up to 1,000 staying in the city every year. The contract - which also involved Wolverhampton, Dudley and Coventry councils - comes to an end in June next year and will not be renewed, Mr Lines said.

Wolverhampton council is also expected to follow suit and stop housing asylum applicants, he added. Birmingham is run by a joint Liberal Democrat and Tory coalition, and is seen as indicating possible policy directions for the Government.

The UK Border Agency’s Regional Director for the Midlands and East of England, Gail Adams, said: ‘We’re disappointed by Birmingham City Council’s decision to withdraw from the West Midlands Consortium. ‘The Consortium’s existing contract will continue until June next year. UKBA will manage the transition to new accommodation in accordance with the terms of the contract.’


Sarrazin has company: Senior German politician calls to stop Muslim immigration

A German official on Saturday called to stop Muslim immigration into the country, stirring public controversy. Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Democratic Union Party (CSU), which is a member of the coalition government in Germany, said in an interview to Focus magazine, "It is obvious that immigrants from Turkey and Arab countries face more difficulty integrating into German society than other immigrants."

"In any case," Seehofer added," the conclusion is that we don’t need additional immigrants from 'foreign cultures'."

The German politician's remarks rekindled an already heated public discussion over the question of the Muslim minority's integration in Germany.

During the interview, Seehofer also argued that unemployment benefits should be revoked from immigrants who do not seek employment, arguing that immigrants should be forced to share the basic values of Germany, and have command of the language.

Seehofer's remarks come after German President Christian Wulff's speech on the 20th anniversary to the unification of Germany. Wulff, whose speech carried a particularly reconciliatory tone, said that Islam constituted a part of Germany's nature, just as Judaism and Christianity have in the past, and will continue to be a part of the nation in the future.

The speech triggered mixed reactions, as Muslim community leaders lauded it, while Christian-rightist elements, including Seehofer, issued fierce criticism. "I do not understand how the role Christianity has played in Germany can be compared to that of Islam," Seehofer noted during the interview. According to the conservative politician, tolerance and openness to other religions, as cemented in the German constitution, do not grant these religions direct influence over the country's core values.

Seehofer's remarks angered politicians from across Germany's political spectrum, leading some politicians to dub him a "radical-rightist populist."

The heated debate in German society centers on the integration of nearly three million Muslim immigrants living in the country today – a majority of them of Turkish descent.

The public debate was set in motion by Thilo Sarrazin, a former banker who published a book in which he slammed the Muslim immigration in the country, claiming it led to a drop in Germany's intellectual capacity and has diminished it's cultural assets.

Sarrazin was dismissed from his post at the Bundesbank following the publication of his book, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies and is expected to become Germany's largest best-seller since the end of the Second World War.


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