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Refugees no longer hoteliers' last resort

15 June 2000
Refugees no longer hoteliers' last resort

Thanet, the south-eastern tip of Kent, is home to the rather run-down seaside resort of Margate. It is also home to 3,000 refugees.

Locals are angry that the town, which used to attract thousands of holiday-makers, has become a magnet for asylum seekers.

They are upset that guesthouses and hotels, which years ago were packed with tourists, have been converted into homes for asylum seekers. And their feelings are shared by people living in depressed seaside resorts throughout the UK.

But if hoteliers cannot fill their rooms with tourists because fewer people are taking holidays by the sea, are they wrong to provide a temporary home for refugees?

Christine Pierce has about 30 refugees living in her hotels, the 19-bedroom Saxondale, the 15-bedroom White Lodge, and the 11-bedroom Old Market Place.

She said: "People criticise us for taking them in, but tourism is finished in Thanet, and we are providing a service that is needed. If we didn't have them, where would they go?"

Hoteliers such as Pierce argue they are helping refugees who in most cases have seen their countries torn apart by war, have lost their homes and jobs and have often seen their families killed.

Poor and vulnerable, they can be stuck in bureaucratic limbo for months while they wait for their applications to be processed.

But Peter Hampson, director of the British Resorts Association, is worried they will further damage the UK's seaside tourist trade.

He said: "What we don't want is large numbers of asylum seekers being dumped in holiday destinations. Tourists do not want to share their accommodation with asylum seekers."

However, hoteliers argue that they do not mix tourists with asylum seekers and deny they use refugees to make huge profits. Instead, they say, tourism is so bad that taking in refugees has become the only way they can make any money.

Councils pay hoteliers to accommodate asylum seekers under their jurisdiction. They can reclaim up to £140 per week for an adult and £240 per week for a family from central Government.

Tom Sandford, owner of the 28-bedroom Avondale hotel in Eastbourne, said: "If I was relying on the tourist trade I would have closed by now."

Another Eastbourne hotelier, who asked not to be named, added: "We had no business in the winter and the bills were piling up, so we took them in."

In Blackpool, a woman who runs a 16-bedroom hotel has two Albanian and 12 Afghan political refugees. In the evenings, when they are not having English lessons, they teach her Afghan recipes. They not only keep her business running, but they have also become her friends.

She said: "They are my family. We would get more money with tourists, but we can't attract them, so instead they pay our mortgage while we provide a roof over their heads."

She added: "There will always be people who have negative attitudes about what we are doing, but all I would say to them is, ‘Do your homework and don't be too quick to judge."

Home Office asylum statistics 2000

  • There were 6,680 applications for asylum in the UK in March.

  • Applications between January and March averaged 6,300 per month. This was 36% higher than the monthly average of 4,650 for the same period last year.

  • In March 590 applicants were recognised as refugees and granted asylum, 1,225 were not recognised as refugees but granted exceptional leave and 7,570 had their applications refused.

Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 15-21 June 2000

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