Claire Simpson: Refugees are at the mercy of the Home Office's 'hostile environment', no matter what Marc Collins thinks

The Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus where a small group of asylum seekers are being housed. Picture by Mal McCann
The Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus where a small group of asylum seekers are being housed. Picture by Mal McCann

When the end-times arrive, former MEP Nigel Farage will still be hovering around the English Channel to see if he can spot any refugees.

An entire political career built on being not too keen on foreigners has landed him lucrative radio presenting slots and now a job on GB News - the ‘I can’t believe it’s not Fox News’ channel for people who don’t like American accents.

True to form, Mr Farage did a live report on migrant crossings in the Channel where he speculated that a dinghy carrying a group of refugees was “stolen” and if the calm weather changed “that’d be the end of that lot”.

Fed on a diet of ‘they’re taking our jobs’, it’s no wonder that news of a very small number of refugees being housed in a hotel in Carrickfergus drew a ludicrous response from the same old reliables.

Former Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting, previously aligned to far-right group Britain First, recorded herself ringing up the Loughshore Hotel to ask why she could not book a room then accosted refugees outside the building.

“After speaking to them it’s quite easy to tell it’s a migrant situation, it’s not a refugee situation,” she claimed, based on no evidence whatsoever.

Did the man being filmed know that his face would be plastered over Twitter? Did he even know why he was being quizzed by Ms Bunting?

A self-professed ‘Conservative-Christian’, Ms Bunting showed no signs of basic empathy, never mind loving thy neighbour as thyself.

Her unhelpful contribution was to be expected, but comments made by DUP councillor Marc Collins were particularly worrying.

As a member of a mainstream party, he should have been aware that his remarks would carry some weight.

"I can already see the claims of racism that are going to come my way but that's not what this is about at all," he said.

So why say anything? Mr Collins’s suggestion that somehow a group of around 30 refugees were taking up valuable bed-space that could be used by homeless veterans was laughable.

Homelessness is a major issue but his logic was pure whataboutery.

Helping one vulnerable group does not mean we can’t help another.

By that reasoning there would be no money for schools because the entire public budget should go towards the NHS.

If Mr Collins did have genuine concerns he could have waited for a response from the Home Office before writing a statement and posting it on Facebook.

He queried why the asylum seekers were being temporarily housed in Carrickfergus, if they had received Covid vaccinations, and why working class families could not “be provided with their food and drink free?”

The answer to the last question is that many working class families have had to rely on food banks, long before the pandemic, due to Conservative austerity policies - nothing, in fact, to do with migrants.

All Mr Collins and Ms Bunting have done is fuel conspiracy theories about migration.

In reality the Home Office has shown systemic hostility to migrants for a decade.

The ‘hostile environment’ policy, first announced under the the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2012, made it as difficult as possible for migrants to stay in the UK.

The policy was so stringent it led to the deportation of Windrush and other Commonwealth citizens, even though they had a guaranteed right to remain in the country.

In recent weeks, Holocaust survivor Irena Jendrycha, who moved to Britain as a young child, spoke of her fears of being deported after Brexit.

She said her draining experience of applying for settled status had left her feeling as if “any goodness was sucked out of me like a syringe”.

No one has done more to discourage migrants than this Conservative government.

Home secretary Priti Patel already wants offshore centres for asylum seekers and criminal charges for migrants “knowingly” arriving in the UK without permission.

She has even opened talks with Denmark over sharing a ‘processing centre’ in Rwanda for refugees.

Far from being housed in a “luxury” hotel, as Ms Bunting claimed, the few refugees at Loughshore are only at the start of a gruelling process which may, for some, end in deportation.