Granada Debate: Speed and pace of 'false messages' around asylum seekers at hotel is 'concerning'

  • Catch-up on ITV Granada's monthly political programme - The Granada Debate

The "speed and pace at which false messages can spread on social media" is a big concern - an MP says, as she warns against believing rumours and myths about refugees.

Katherine Fletcher condemned the violence which broke out outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley.

"We have to condemn in the strongest possible terms anyone that thinks that setting fire to a van is the answer to anything, because it is not," she said.

The demonstration outside the Suites Hotel descended into chaos on Friday 10 February, leading to a police van being set on fire, and hundreds storming police cordons.

Following the violence the leader of Knowsley Council criticised the "rumour mill" and "misinformation" about those housed at the hotel, which has been used to accommodate asylum seekers since January 2022.

At a recent meeting Councillor Graham Morgan referred to the “speculation and in some cases completely made up stories are damning the reputation of Knowsley” that have been circulating on social media.

He added: “There is no evidence any of this happened, but sometimes people don’t let facts get in the way of a story.”

Katherine Fletcher, South Ribble's Conservative MP, and Bill Esterson, Labour's MP for Sefton Central, joined Lise McNally. Credit: ITV News

Speaking as part of ITV Granada's monthly political programme the Granada Debate, Ms Fletcher, the Conservative MP for South Ribble in Lancashire, urged those who were sharing and reading messages on social media to be critical.

"I think this does land on something that is of broader concern outside this issue," she said, "which is the speed and the pace that false messages can spread among social media."

"We need to encourage people to be critical and evaluate what is being passed to them on social media.

"Does this pass the truth test? Is it from a reputable news source such as ITV Granada?

"Is it a rumour mill? Who stands to gain by spreading something that may or may not be true.

"It is important people understand that because we have a responsibility to welcome people who are fleeing from war-torn countries as well as a responsibility to process and support them."

The incident sparked discussion in parliament about the language politicians use when talking about people seeking asylum.

In particular parliament focused on some of the words the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman has used in the past, with politicians raising that some terms then appeared on placards held by protesters.

In response the Home Secretary condemned disorder at the demonstration, adding the “alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence”.

Ms Fletcher was joined by Labour MP for Sefton Central Bill Esterson who called on the Home Secretary to reflect on the words she used.

"It is very regrettable the Home Secretary used inflammatory language," he said.

"That sort of thing doesn't help and I hope that she reflects on what she said and the way her words were repeated at the demonstration to ensure that doesn't happen again."

He added that he believed much of the misinformation around Knowsley had come from the 'far right groups'.

He said: "The way that the far right has hijacked situations and inflamed tensions is completely unacceptable, we really must support the police.

"The police were under attack that night, just as much as much as those who have fled to this country to seek sanctuary were under attack, and the local community was under attack too.

"It can't ever be right that the scenes we saw that night are allowed to continue and I hope that the police take the full action to ensure that they don't again."

Charities described violent scenes outside a hotel housing asylum seekers as ‘horrifying’ Credit: Tony Broster/PA

Both politicians addressed relationships with the local communities where hotels housing asylum seekers are located.

Mr Esterson said: "I think it's really important that we all take a very responsible approach to ensure that people who are having to be placed around the country can do so in a sensitive way and in a safe way.

"Also that local communities have the support they need when you are getting a sudden arrival of people in the way.

"This has happened in a number of places, but there is no excuse for whipping up hatred like the far right has done and it is incumbent on all in public life to be very careful and measured in their words too."

Ms Fletcher said: "People are concerned. There is a hotel that has been given over to asylum seekers within Leyland that actually is, with Home Office support, very successfully looking after people as we speak and processing their applications. There was fear and concern in the community when it first turned up, lots of 'rumour mill' things

"I do think Robert Jenrick (Minister for Immigration) is right to highlight that people are worried that vulnerable individuals are getting exploited by gangs in volumes, and that does not pass the British sense of fair play test.

"I think we need to be really calm with it, but we also need to take action to solve the root of the problem."

Police were called to an anti-refugee protest outside a Knowsley hotel Credit: Liverpool Echo

The Home Office has announced plans to streamline the system for refugees coming from five different countries.

It will mean rather than having a face-to-face interview their case will be considered with a written questionnaire.

The government hopes that tackling the backlog in the asylum system, alongside stopping dangerous channel crossings will help reduce the dependence on hotels.

In a fiery exchange between the two MPs, the pair clashed on how to tackle the number of asylum seekers waiting for decision, which is at its highest level since records began.

A total of 89,398 people applied for asylum in 2022, the latest Home Office figures show, more than double the number during the European migration crisis in 2016, but lower than 2002 when there was unrest in Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Somalia.

The Labour MP for Sefton Central said: "What we have suggested to the Government is that they beef up the department to process those who have arrived here to seek asylum but also work internationally to tackle those criminal gangs.

But, cutting in, Katherine Fletcher said: "So this is Labour yet again calling for stuff that's already in place."

Mr Esterson added: "It's not in place Katherine, otherwise you'd have dealt with it."

The Conservative MP for Ribble South replied: "We've just announced we're working better with the French, we're increasing the case worker volumes.

"There was some difficulties in processing but that's because it's the same individuals who are supporting the people we're welcoming from Ukraine, from Afghanistan, from Syria, from Hong Kong, there's not a single view of how we help people in vulnerable situations around the world."

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