Opinion: Asylum seekers deserve our full sympathy

Amnesty has launched a petition urging Stormont to defend the rights of asylum seekers staying at a hotel in Carrickfergus. Picture by Mal McCann

Asylum seekers are extremely vulnerable individuals, and, when they are in urgent need of assistance, they should expect to be treated with sympathy and understanding by those in positions of influence.

Unfortunately, there are voices within the DUP, which was by a narrow margin the largest political party at Stormont at the time of the last Assembly election, who take a very different attitude.

Marc Collins is a DUP member of Mid and East Antrim Council who came to prominence earlier this month when, while sitting on a committee responsible for environmental services and street cleansing, felt it was appropriate to become personally involved in building a loyalist bonfire in Carrickfergus.

When Mr Collins discovered that asylum seekers were temporarily being accommodated in his home town, he raised issues last week, without providing any supporting evidence, about their Covid-19 vaccinations and whether or not they had any criminal history.

Mr Collins asked; "Why can't our homeless veterans be put up in hotel accommodation until a home is found for them...why can't working class families who are struggling to stay above the breadline be provided with their food and drink free?''

It quickly became clear that the Loughshore Hotel is not due to open for public bookings until September, and that at least two of the asylum seekers who were temporarily staying in basic conditions there were so alarmed about their safety, after finding themselves under a social media spotlight, they had already moved out.

There were suggestions that more senior DUP figures were preparing to clarify the party's position, but, up until last night, no further statements of any kind had been released.

It then emerged that a barrage of other online comments attacking the asylum seekers had resulted in complaints to the PSNI and were being investigated as potential hate crimes.

A senior police officer made it clear that there was nothing illegal about seeking asylum in any part of the UK, and pointed out that a rigorous process surrounded all applications.

Other political parties including Alliance, the Greens, People Before Profit, the SDLP and Sinn Féin have expressed deep concern about the developments and Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on all the Stormont authorities to defend those staying at the Carrickfergus hotel.

It is an initiative which deserves to be widely supported and the considered response of the DUP will be awaited with particular interest.

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