LONDON - UK police have arrested three people on suspicion of violent disorder during an anti-immigration demonstration by far-right protesters outside a hotel used to house asylum seekers near Liverpool.
The protest came amid heightened tensions as record numbers of migrants are crossing the Channel in small boats, prompting the interior ministry to come up with a controversial plan to send such asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Merseyside Police said “missiles” had been thrown at officers and a police vehicle was damaged after several hundred demonstrators rallied late on Friday outside The Suites Hotel in Knowsley.
Asylum seeker advocacy groups said the protesters were affiliated to far-right groups, while it was unclear who organised the demonstration.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul White said: “The scenes... were completely unacceptable, putting those present, our officers and the wider community in danger.”
Merseyside police commissioner Emily Spurrell told Radio City station: “It was incredibly dangerous and there were a couple of injuries amongst the police officers.”
The Liverpool Echo newspaper said a police riot van was set alight.
The Home Office has been using the hotel to temporarily house asylum seekers since last year, according to local media.
The Liverpool Echo published images of police in riot gear facing off black-clad protesters as smoke rose from a burning vehicle.
It said footage sent to the newspaper also showed protesters apparently attacking a police vehicle with sledgehammers.
Protesters outside the hotel shouted slogans such as “Get them out,” one pro-refugee group, the Merseyside Pensioners Association, said.
Its activists were holding a counter-protest at the same time, standing outside the hotel with placards saying “Refugees welcome”.
Ms Claire Mosely, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, who was also at the scene, told Sky News that protesters “got to the police van and they set it on fire and it actually broke into a really big fire and exploded.”
“Then they broke through again and they started fighting with the police,” Ms Mosely said. “I was really shocked... how quickly it got worse.”
White nationalist group Patriotic Alternative denied it was the organiser, after holding a protest outside the hotel last week and leafleting locally.
One of its campaigners posted a video showing he was at the scene on Friday, however.
Hope Not Hate website, which researches the far right, wrote that the events took place “in a context of swelling anti-migrant hatred”.
“Far-right groups like Britain First (BF) and Patriotic Alternative (PA) had made visits to the hotel in recent weeks, although the protest appears to have been largely locally-driven, rather than organised by far-right groups outside the area,” it said.
Ms Chantelle Lunt, chair of the Merseyside Alliance for Racial Equality, tweeted that the protest took place in one of the “poorest areas in the UK” where far-right activist Tommy Robinson campaigned in 2019.
Mr Robinson visited the town of Huyton in the Knowsley area while campaigning for a seat in the European parliament in 2019, according to the Huyton Times. AFP