Call to reduce the number of asylum seekers in Rotherham

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The government has asked for a reduction in the number of asylum seekers housed in Rotherham.

The Home Office has made the request to G4S, the company running the contract to provide accommodation for asylum seekers in Yorkshire.

It is in response to a complaint from Rotherham Council that asylum seekers were not being equally distributed across the county.

G4S said it was working with the Home Office to resolve the issue.

The Home Office said it expected the number to have been reduced by August.

The department could not not confirm a figure for the reduction, but said that limits were agreed with local authorities based on national census data.

The details emerged in a recent National Audit Office (NAO) report into the first six months of government contracts with private firms to provide accommodation for asylum seekers in six areas of the UK.

G4S was awarded the contract in March 2012. The scheme became fully operational in January 2013 following a transition period.

Referring to Rotherham, the report said "the town currently has the highest number of asylum seekers in the region, including higher numbers than in Leeds, the biggest city in the area".

Government guidelines state that areas should have a limit of one asylum seeker per 200 residents, with local authorities responsible for setting the levels for each district "in order to maintain community cohesion".

'Normal levels'

A G4S spokesman said: "During the transition to the new contracts in 2012 there was an increase in the numbers of asylum seekers housed in Rotherham. However, at no time were figures in excess of guidelines.

"We have worked with the Home Office and local authority to resolve the issue and have agreed a plan of action which will lead to numbers returning to normal levels within a few months."

In May 2013, Rotherham was home to 468 asylum seekers while Leeds had 367, according to figures from Migration Yorkshire, an organisation which works with local authorities and the government to manage migration in the region.

Figures from the 2011 Census show that Leeds has a population of 751,500, almost three times the number of people living in Rotherham, which has a population of 257,300.

The ratio in Leeds in May 2013 was one asylum seeker to 2,047 local residents, whereas in Rotherham the figure was one to every 549 people.

The latest figures from Migration Yorkshire show that in September 2013 the Rotherham figure remained almost the same at 467, whereas the figure in Leeds had risen to 474.

'Unequal distribution'

Bill Dennis from Migration Yorkshire said: "It is important that asylum seekers are dispersed throughout the region evenly and not just in one town or area and that account is taken of local schools and other services."

Mr Dennis said that there had been an almost 15% increase in the numbers of asylum seekers last year, partly fuelled by the conflicts in Syrian and Somalia and unrest in parts of South Asia and Africa.

Dave Richmond, director of housing for Rotherham Council, said the authority approached the Home Office last summer with its concerns.

He said: "While asylum seeker numbers locally were not high in historical terms, the authority had concerns regarding a perceived unequal distribution of asylum seekers across the Yorkshire and Humber region.

"Both the Home Office and G4S understood Rotherham's concerns and gave undertakings to reduce numbers locally over time."

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