There has been a significant amount of comment made and concerns expressed on social media recently about the imminent arrival of asylum seekers in Westhill. Much of this correspondence has focussed on the lack of consultation from the Home Office (the architects of the strategy) or Aberdeenshire Council who have been tasked with facilitating it at local level. 

WECC have already posted a statement outlining our position on these events saying that we support the aim of Aberdeenshire Council, working in partnership with the Home Office and their agents MEARS, to mitigate any negative impacts on the Westhill community and maximise the strengths, goodwill and resilience in our community; and to that end WECC has offered its support to the responsible authorities and remains on standby should support be requested. 

Regarding the debate about lack of consultation, this will no doubt carry on elsewhere but given the imminent arrival of the asylum seekers, for our part WECC now want to help move local focus on to helping to deal with the practical challenges and issues that may arise once they are here. 

To that end WECC representatives recently initiated a meeting with the MEARS Representative who will manage the Hampton by Hilton, Elrick, namely Mr James Cherry, Partnership Manager (for further details on his role please see postscript). This brief, informal and introductory meeting, which was also attended by a Rotary representative, was friendly, constructive and informative. Some key points of discussion are listed below. 

MEARS are an independent commercial organisation with responsibilities for managing asylum seeker accommodation and support services such as health care, as required. They have no accountability for consultation with communities on whether or not particular premises should be used in a particular community.     

Mr Cherry has worked in his role with MEARS for some three years now, and in his experience, most asylum seekers by far, are peaceable law-abiding people, with a willingness to fit in to whatever host community they find themselves in. 

He also informed us that asylum seekers can be very variable e.g. from highly qualified medical professionals to unskilled labourers. Home Office statistics show that on a broad average, depending on the population in question, some 75% are eventually granted asylum based on genuine claims.

MEARS Representatives (Mr Cherry and his two colleagues) will be keen to take up offers from community groups and individuals, to provide support to asylum seekers, for example by providing basics such as serviceable clothing and shoes. Asylum seekers needs vary in this respect. Some can arrive with two holdalls of clothing while others will have a carrier bag with all their worldly possessions in it. He will put out a call in due course listing priority clothing needs. Good footwear and warm clothing are likely to be top of the list, with small to medium size clothes being most needed. 

They will also welcome access to facilities that can be made freely available for example to play football, cricket, tennis table tennis etc. – in fact any sort of leisure activity as physical exercise is good for mental health. 

There have been asylum seekers present in Aberdeen for over two years, and a network of individuals and charitable organisations has successfully supported them throughout that time, with no known reports of negative actions or impacts on their local communities. Mr Cherry will provide us with contact details of the principle people involved, with a view to helping interested parties learn from their experience; indeed some of them may be interested inactively supporting efforts in Westhill. 

The situation will continue to evolve and in the immediate future, WECC will be considering how we can organise ourselves with and alongside other willing supporters to help in any way that we can, within the bounds of our resource capability. 

M. Barr Chair WECC

Postscript – James Cherry Partnership Manager for Mears will be responsible to ensure that the residents are looked after and connected to community groups to support with their integration and wellbeing. James will work closely with statutory organisations such as Police Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, NHS and Health and Social Care partnerships.

James will be keen to link with community groups and individuals to collaborate with any additional support requirements such as clothing, volunteering opportunities, community projects and will be working closely with the migration and resettlement teams within Aberdeenshire Council.  He is aware of the concerns that the community may have with this proposition however he is confident that there will be little to no impact on the community and will be very pleased to receive offers of support via email at Asylum@aberdeenshire.gov.uk