'We were scared': Asylum seekers on Merseyside tell of fear after hotel targeted by protestors

Video report by Granada Reports Correspondent Ann O'Connor

Asylum seekers on Merseyside have told ITV Granada Reports of their fear and frustration after hotel accommodation was targeted by protestors.

Earlier this month, the Suites Hotel in Kirkby was the scene of a large disturbance in which arrests were made and a police van set on fire.

Today, 23 February, new government figures show the backlog for processing claims is at the highest since records began.

The figures, from the Home Office, show around 166,000 asylum seekers are waiting for a decision on their future, the highest for over 30 years.

Police in riot gear during the protest outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside, in February 2023 Credit: Peter Powell/PA

One man from Iran who is at the Suites hotel, says everyone was scared the riot could have spread inside. He said all people there want to do is work and contribute to society.

The 31-year-old fled to the UK on a dinghy in January, after persecution in his home country for his conversion to Christianity.

The engineering student was sent to Merseyside, and on 10 February, watched from his hotel room fearing that demonstrators might attack the building.

He has asked ITV News to disguise his identity.

He said: "We were frightened.

"Especially when they tried to break the fence, we thought they might come inside the hotel and set the hotel on fire."

Mohammad has been living at another hotel on Merseyside for almost a year and is desperate to complete his British qualifications to become a qualified radiologist.

He says the vast majority of people he's met have been welcoming, but he's still wary.

He said: "In Afghanistan I was a doctor.

"I want to pay back this country, but I'm not allowed to work here, I'm not allowed to travel."

Mohammad worked as a doctor in Afghanistan. Credit: ITV News

The Asylum Link charity on Merseyside has echoed calls from the leader of Knowsley Council for the government to get a grip of asylum claims, the conditions people are held in and tackle the social media rumour mill that inflames tempers.

Ewan Roberts from the charity said: "It is inevitable that you get trouble like this.

"People should be properly embedded in communities, they should be engaged."

The government has announced it will fast track 12,000 asylum applications by ditching face-to-face interviews and replacing them with a form filled out in English that must be returned within twenty days.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know