Asylum Seeker Accommodation Off Wirral Peninsula

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 25 May 2023.

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Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead 3:56, 25 May 2023

I am grateful to have finally secured an Adjournment debate on a matter of such great significance to my constituents and, I would hope, to all those who believe in the need for a more compassionate asylum policy. On 14 April, officers at Wirral Council were informed by Home Office officials of Government proposals to accommodate up to 1,500 vulnerable asylum seekers on a vessel berthed in my constituency of Birkenhead. The vessel will be located on the site of the Wirral Waters development, an active work site in an area of Birkenhead without adequate transport links to local amenities, services and community support networks. To all intents and purposes, it would be a floating prison ship.

I should be clear that, as far as I am aware, no deal has yet been concluded between the Home Office and the owners of Peel Ports to accommodate refugees at Wirral Waters. However, given that large barges and ferries are already being deployed elsewhere in the country for the purposes of housing refugees, and that the Home Secretary has staked her reputation on adopting a punitive approach to those who come to this country seeking sanctuary, the direction of travel is clear.

When news of the plans broke, it caused considerable concern across my constituency. Questions were rightly raised about the capacity of the borough to cope with a scheme of this scale and nature, and whether our overstretched and underfunded local services would be able to provide effective support to such a large number of refugees without there being a serious impact on the services provided to local people in one of the most deprived communities in the country.

The proposed location of the vessel is the £4.5 million Wirral Waters development site—that is a cornerstone of the ambitious programme of regeneration now under way in Birkenhead—and that has caused great consternation. After years of delay, work is well under way in bringing that project to fruition. Businesses and communities across Birkenhead are counting on the project to succeed, but it is hard to see how that work can safely continue if the site becomes home to as many as 1,500 people.

The implications of the proposal for my constituency are serious, but I want to be clear that my concerns first and foremost are for the welfare of the refugees themselves. I have not called this debate to say, as other Members have in previous debates, “Not in my backyard.” Instead, I proudly and without equivocation say that refugees are welcome here. The question that the Government must answer today is fundamentally a moral one: how on earth can they justify a policy that treats fellow human beings with such inhumanity?

Wirral has a proud tradition as a place of refuge, from my ancestors who fled famine in Ireland to the Ukrainian families who are making it their home today. We are proud of our record of opening our doors to those in need. Our borough has taken the second-highest number of refugees in the Liverpool city region across all Home Office pathway programmes, behind only the city of Liverpool itself.

It has accepted the highest number of people under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in the entirety of the Liverpool city region. However, we need to ensure that people who come to the UK in the pursuit of refuge are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.