I have had personal experience of the horrendous behaviour of extremist groups raising unrest about immigration and asylum at the public meeting which I organised in Dunstable Priory on 16 February. I was particularly upset about the behaviour of Patriotic Alternative outside an asylum hotel in Dunstable because of the upset this caused to the residents. I repeatedly called for kindness to be shown to the asylum seekers who are residents locally. I do think it is very important that mainstream parties bring about an ordered approach to our asylum system so that this area of policy is not left to the extremists.
I am also aware that there have been other incidents outside accommodation centres recently. I can assure you that the Home Secretary and the Minister for Immigration has been clear that there is never any excuse for violence. The Home Office has said that it takes its responsibilities to those in temporary asylum accommodation and to local communities very seriously. As such, alongside the police and asylum accommodation providers, the Government is closely monitoring the situation around the country and the activities of relevant groups. Security of sites has also been enhanced and is kept under constant review.
As to the language used by the Home Secretary, I think she was making an important point that there is a significant difference between those people who come to the UK due to genuine persecution and human rights abuses around the world and those people who come gaming the system for economic reasons.
Last year, some 45,000 people chose to cross the Channel illegally, with a third coming from Albania, and that number places immense strain on our system. I am encouraged that the Prime Minister identified illegal immigration as one of his five priorities and has now announced the introduction of the Illegal Migration Bill.
Finally, I understand that the Home Office is committed to ending the reliance on hotels to provide accommodation. The department is in the process of identifying a range of alternative sites such as disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military land. So far, the Home Office has located sites to house 10,000 people, and will add thousands more places in the coming months, at half the cost of hotels.
I can assure you that all asylum claims lodged from within the UK are given full and careful consideration, so no one is removed who faces persecution or serious harm on return to their country of origin.