A refugee family asked to be taken back to Syria after allegedly being racially abused when they were housed in an area dominated by British National Party (BNP) supporters.
The extended family – three adults and six children – had been allocated homes in an estate in Stoke-on-Trent under a government scheme intended to bring 20,000 vulnerable Syrians to the UK by 2020. They were nine of 20 Syrians resettled in the area on 30 June.
But within hours of arriving in the city they were moved out by the local council after a neighbour made a "derogatory" comment about the family's ethnicity.
When asked by social workers to turn down the volume of his music, the neighbour reportedly complained of the noise he suffered during a refurbishment of the refugees' new home in the weeks leading up to their arrival. He then added: "I'm not having a family like that living next door to me."
The family, said to be "shaking and crying" following the incident, was quickly moved to another nearby home occupied by members of their extended family. They were then given shelter at a nearby church by its vicar, Rev Sally Smith.
Rev Smith, who also runs a local refugee charity, accused the council of housing families "without taking into account the type of community they were settling them into". The estate's ward had a BNP councillor up until 2011.
She told the Stoke Sentinel: "The family were shaking and crying and even asked to be taken back to Syria. I could not leave them in that state, so the only option was to take them back to my house, where we gave them a meal to break their fast and we gave them our beds. The following day they were taken to the hotel arranged by the council."
She added: "Since the announcement that the council would offer homes to 20 Syrian refugees from a camp, church groups have offered their assistance and forums have been held in the hope that several people could work together to offer a warm welcome to any newly-arriving families.
"However, the council chose not to engage with any of us and resettled the families themselves, without taking into account the type of community they were settling them into."
Former BNP leader Nick Griffin had once hailed Stoke-on-Trent as his party's "jewel in the crown", with the city's declining industrial sector lending to voter dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties.
In 2006, the BNP won five seats in the city's local council elections – equal to the Liberal Democrats – with the party occupying 49 seats across England. But the anti-immigration and anti-Islam party has since suffered a significant decline, with all five of their seats in Stoke-on-Trent wiped out during the 2011 local elections.
Rev Smith said the area where the Syrian families were sent was "well known nationally to be a hotbed of BNP and EDL [English Defence League] activity". She added: "The families who voted them [the BNP] in are still there."
Stoke has a 'diverse and welcoming community'
The council insisted the three other Syrian families housed in the city on 30 June were "met with the support of local people that our city is famous for" and said the affected family was receiving support.
Councillor Randy Conteh, cabinet member for housing, said: "Stoke-on-Trent has a diverse and welcoming community and city residents are known for their warmth and friendliness. Unfortunately a very isolated incident occurred at a neighbouring property of the fourth family which was directed at our staff after they asked a neighbour to turn their music down.
"To avoid this unsettling the family – who were indoors at the time – we acted swiftly and have moved these family members into alternative accommodation, with support for the children and all of the family, while we look at appropriate housing for them. The other Syrian families who came to the city at the same time are settling in well.
"We are all united in wanting these families to be able to settle happily in the city away from the trauma they have suffered. Any major change is unsettling and we are doing everything we can to support the families."
A spokeswoman for Staffordshire police said that officers were seeking witnesses to the incident.