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ASYLUM BARONS CASHING IN

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The Landmark is one of two rotten 15-storey blocks abandoned by Liverpool City Council as unfit for their own tenan...
The Landmark is one of two rotten 15-storey blocks abandoned by Liverpool City Council as unfit for their own tenants - but now they are being filled with asylum-seekers by the home office as part of the government's dispersal programme, reported The Observer (p10).

This block and its nearby twin, The Inn on the Park, dominate the skyline of Everton Park, one of the poorest inner-city areas in wester Europe. They are owned by Farial Sabbagh, one of a band of asylum entrepreneurs making fortunes from the government's dispersal of tens of thousands of refugees.

Last month the home office signed a contract with his company, Landmark Liverpool, to house more than 600 asylum-seekers. The home office refused to reveal how much it was paying Mr Sabbagh.

But in some places contractors are paid£150 per asylum-seeker per week. Council sources in the north west said that one company - Clearsprings, of Rayleigh, Essex - is negotiating a contract for 7,500 places in that region.

Clearsprings has dumped almost 100 asylum-seekers from a dozen countries in a similar scheme in Nelson, a former mill town in Lancashire. Neither the council nor health authority has been told of their presence.

Asylum-seekers no longer have any choice about where they are placed and lose access to all state help if they refuse to co-operate. The dispersal policy was designed to place ethnic groups together in clusters, with health, education and translation services geared to the different communities.

In Liverpool this is clearly not the case. At the Landmark properties The Observer met residents from Chad, Cameroon, Lebanon, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. Residents said the sordid living conditions meant ideological differences had been set aside.

Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, wrote to the home office more than a year ago about Landmark's treatment of asylum-seekers. She wrote again on 19 May to object to the home office contract. 'I have visited the premises and have extreme concerns about the welfare of vulnerable people being placed there,' she said. She has received no response.

Richard Kemp, Liberal Democrat leader of Liverpool City Council and head of the North West Asylum Consortium, said: 'These private companies are often run from an office over a shop. You cannot organise something on this scale with an operation like that.'

In Nelson, John Kirk, director of services for Pendle Borough Council, was only alerted to his town's intake of asylum-seekers three weeks ago - when some locals gave a teenager from Chad directions to a local college.

'And since then we've had no help', said Mr Kirk. 'I've asked the landlords for details - they tell me it's bound by the Official Secrets Act. The home office has ignored our requests for information. I don't even know how many asylum-seekers there are in Nelson.'

Mr Kirk called the home office requesting information on the number of asylum-seekers allocated to Nelson. A reply, dated 17 May, stated: 'We have planned dispersal on the basis of language, ideally using areas where there are existing ethnic communities...The languages we now intend to send to the Nelson area are Punjabi, Urdu, Mandarin, Romanian and Czech.'

Mr Kirk commented: 'Punjabi is like our second language here. But Mandarin. We have a couple of Chinese takeaways - but that doesn't make us experts.'

Immigration minister Barbara Roche last week revealed Clearsprings also had contracts for Manchester and Leeds.

To date, 168 asylum-seekers have been bussed to Pendle Borough - Nelson houses 80, while Burnley is home to 88. All have been transported by Clearsprings, which transfers responsibility for their housing to local landlords.

The Observer said while few were prepared to say it on the record, the increasing concern for people working with asylum-seekers is that their poor treatment is part of a concerted campaign to dissuade others from applying for asylum. Richard Kemp, however, said: 'We don't care if they are millionaires or paupers - but this government wants to make Britain so nasty that people don't want to come here.'

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