31 October 2022

Going coastal…how deprived seaside towns are bearing the brunt of the migration crisis


The firebombing of a migrant centre in Dover is yet another disturbing sign of how the town has become the frontline of Britain’s broken asylum system – with disease outbreaks, overcrowding and tensions with the local community exploding into violence. But it is far from the only place facing similar pressures.

Across Britain’s coastal towns, the crumbling bed-and-breakfasts and boarded-up bingo halls that once accommodated working class British holidaymakers have taken on a second-life as Home Office-funded immigration processing centres. 

Pick up a local newspaper in Boston and Skegness, Clacton, Great Yarmouth or Ramsgate and you will find bleak stories of violence against Border Force staff, emergency injunctions attempting to block the Home Office from filling more hotels, weddings being cancelled in order to make space for more migrants, rape of schoolgirls by those seeking to claim asylum and new arrivals turning to prostitution. The Times has reported that locals in Dover have become so distressed by the influx of migrants that they have begun to arm themselves. Individuals have been breaking into people’s homes demanding access to phones, loitering around people’s gardens and primary schools. The situation is becoming completely untenable.

This is a crisis that has been long in the making. English seaside resorts are among the most deprived places in the country, blighted by high unemployment, poor health and riddled with crime. A lack of cash and political clout has made it extremely difficult for local residents to resist when B&Bs in their area are used to house people with nowhere else to go. There have long been reports that released offenders, including those charged with sex crimes, have been housed in B&Bs alongside vulnerable children.

As well as ex-criminals and looked after children, the Home Office provides accommodation and support for asylum seekers and their families while their cases are processed, under its international obligation to prevent people becoming destitute. The number of accommodated asylum seekers more than doubled since 2012, to around 48,000 in March 2020, according to data complied by the National Audit Office. 

Home Office statistics reveal that the average number of people crossing The Channel in small boats has risen five-fold since 2018, from an average of seven people per boat in 2018 to just under 40 in 2022 so far. MigrationWatch UK estimates the cost to the taxpayer for housing these migrants is around £1.3bn a year, far higher than the Government’s own forecast of just £70m.

As politicians attempt scrabble to expand immigration processing centres – which are already extremely overcrowded – the Home Office will find itself increasingly reliant on band-aid solutions like temporary camps along the British shoreline.

The blame can hardly be apportioned entirely to France either. Without much fanfare, the European refugee crisis has again reared its head. As ‘Fortress Europe; reasserts itself, and formerly liberal nations like Sweden increasingly turn away from an open-borders policy in response to soaring public opposition to uncontrolled migration, countries considered to have more relaxed policies are increasingly targeted by those hoping to escape their home countries. Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch, also underlines that Britain’s failure to eject individuals whose applications have been rejected is a powerful attraction for those with dubious claims. Indeed, some reports indicate that as much as 1% of the adult male population of Albanian have made the crossing to Britain to claim asylum –  Albania is hardly the easiest place to live, but nor is it facing a humanitarian crisis.

While the stereotyping of North Londoners as ‘tofu-eating wokerati’ is lazy, it’s also undoubtedly correct that high-income voters who burnish their tolerant credentials are unlikely to live in areas that experience the consequences of rapid demographic change. Polling by Onward shows that the coastal community of Boston and Skegness is most likely to say that immigration has overall undermined British society, while Islington North is most likely to say it has enriched it.  

Allowing deprived coastal areas to turn into mini-Ellis Islands will come back to bite the Conservatives, especially if they are seen to sit on their hands in the face of widespread disorder. However, while Labour appear to be miles ahead, polling also indicates that the majority of 2019 voters wavering in support have drifted towards ‘don’t know’ rather than outright support of Sir Keir Starmer’s party. 

One of the more heartening moments at Rishi Sunak’s PMQs debut was when he promised to ‘relentlessly support’ deprived rural and coastal communities – neat response to Starmer’s jibe about Sunak promising to change funding formulas to redress the balance between poor inner city areas and the rest of the country. Sunak is right to do so: our seaside towns have been overlooked for too long. and if the new PM is smart, he will give them back their voice.

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Poppy Coburn is a journalist.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.