Calls for the Government to take a stand against violence towards asylum seekers

Police were called to an anti-refugee protest outside a Knowsley hotel on Friday 10 February. Credit: Liverpool Echo

Political leaders must "take a clear stand" and condemn violence against asylum seekers, charities have said in an open letter to the government.

They warn the "horrifying scenes" seen on Merseyside could be repeated across the country if nothing is done.

The charities criticised the "inflammatory language" and policies that "demonise" people seeking refuge, and warned of a "high risk of more premeditated extremist attacks around the country" following the violence outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley where Asylum seekers were being housed.

Fireworks were thrown at police, while a police van was attacked with hammers and set alight, during the disturbance on Friday 10 February.

Since then 15 people between the ages of 13 and 54 have been arrested, with one teenager charged with violent disorder and assault by beating of an emergency services worker.

The other 14 have been bailed pending further investigation.

The demonstration was said to be prompted by a viral video that was recorded and put on social media.

Seven people were locked up over the disturbance on Monday Credit: Peter Powell/PA

The letter, co-ordinated by the coalition campaign Together With Refugees, was signed by more than 100 organisations and charities from across the country, including Liverpool City of Sanctuary, Care4Calais, Share Knowsley and the Refugee Council.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has faced repeated criticism for her rhetoric describing migrants crossing the English Channel.

She prompted an outcry in November when she told MPs that the south coast was facing an "invasion" of illegal migrants.

The charities said people in the asylum system "have already suffered terribly", fleeing war and persecution in places like Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Iran.

Describing Britain's asylum system as "broken", the organisations said people are forced into a period of "limbo" as they wait for a decision on their claim to stay in the UK, and end up in hotels which they called "a completely inappropriate form of accommodation".

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The charities called on those in charge to "create a system that is fair and compassionate, and brings cohesion instead of division".

They said: "Having already experienced great hardship, these men, women and children who come here for protection are now faced with violence, fuelled by inflammatory language of 'invasion' and policies that demonise them.

"The responsibility to create a system that is fair and compassionate, and brings cohesion instead of division, lies with our decision makers.

"With the high risk of more premeditated extremist attacks around the country, leaders of all parties must now take a clear stand and condemn any further violence against those who come here to find safety, and set out the action they will take to prevent it."

The charities said those responsible for inciting anger and violence "bring shame on this country" and are in the minority.

They added: "This does not reflect the people of Britain. This is not who we are."

A police van was set alight during the protest. Credit: PA Images

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has publicly condemned the appalling scenes outside the hotel and violence toward police officers on Friday night in Merseyside.

“The welfare of asylum seekers in our care is of the utmost importance and we will work with the police to ensure their safety.”

Ewan Roberts, centre manager of Asylum Link Merseyside, said his area has a "proud history of welcoming refugees and the horrifying incident on Friday night does not represent the people of Knowsley".

He said: "The people staying in temporary accommodation came to us seeking our help, and instead had the experience of being under siege by a violent mob.

"We urge politicians to stop using rhetoric that fuels such hatred, condemn this violence and start doing the real work of clearing the backlog instead."

Former refugee Sabir Zazai, who is now chairman of Together With Refugees - a coalition of more than 500 national and local organisations - said the issue is not about party politics but rather "basic human decency".

He said: "The very least all political leaders could do is to condemn the attack on people seeking sanctuary in our communities.

"Leaders of all political parties must call for the ending of these hostile policies and hateful language that only fuels division and anger."

Jared Skeete, 19, of Irwell Close, Aigburth, Liverpool, was remanded in custody to appear before Liverpool Crown Court on 13 March.

The remaining 14 people who were arrested, 12 men and two women who are mainly from the Knowsley area, were conditionally bailed pending the outcome of police inquiries.