People seeking refuge in Britain are being forced to live in ‘disgraceful’ and ‘shameful’ conditions, according to a damning new report by MPs.
In a new report published today, the Home Affairs Select Committee has slammed the existing system for accommodating people seeking asylum as a disgrace and has called for the Government to take immediate action to rectify the situation.
The report follows a year long Inquiry into the way people who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim are housed. People who are in the asylum process are prevented from working and instead are forced to rely on the Government to provide them with somewhere safe to sleep until they receive a decision on their asylum claim.
Under the current system, the Government outsources the provision of this accommodation to private contractors Clearel, G4S and Serco. These companies then send asylum seekers around the country to live on a no choice basis, often in deprived areas where housing is cheapest.
However, since the contracts began in 2012 the companies have suffered wave of public scandals, with conditions in asylum accommodation revealed to be overcrowded, unsafe and rat infested. Last year, there was public outcry when it emerged companies were deliberately painting the doors of asylum housing red, leaving residents easily identifiable and exposed to abuse and intimidation.
As a result of the poor publicity, last year the Home Affairs Select Committee set up an Inquiry into the way asylum accommodation is run. The Refugee Council gave evidence to the Committee highlighting how the needs of vulnerable groups, especially pregnant women, are often overlooked by the housing providers.
Now MPs are calling for more power to be given to local authorities to inspect properties and ensure that standards are being met. MPs have also recommended that people seeking asylum are housed more evenly across the country, with local authorities given more of a say over the process.
Committee members point to the successful resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees, which has witnessed local authorities across the country voluntarily offer to help house a combined total of 20,000 people by 2020. Under the resettlement scheme, local authorities lead the way in planning and caring for the arrivals and receive funding from central government to cover the costs of the programme.
Prior to the current asylum accommodation contracts being awarded, local authorities were largely responsible for finding accommodation in their area for people seeking asylum on behalf of the Home Office. The existing contracts expire in 2019 with the Home Office currently in talks to decide what happens next.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “This report sends a crystal clear message to the Government: it must stop cramming desperate people into unfit, unsafe, rat infested housing. The Committee paints a grim picture of poor conditions across the board, but it’s particularly shocking that mums-to-be are being prevented from obtaining the urgent medical care and the nutritious food they need during pregnancy. There’s no simply excuse for putting the lives of women and their babies at risk.
“It doesn’t need to be this way. The success of the Syrian resettlement programme has demonstrated that communities across the UK are both capable of and keen to welcome refugees if local authorities are properly consulted, resourced and responsibility is evenly shared.
“It’s vital the Government takes immediate action and ensures that the dignity and rights of vulnerable people who’ve sought refuge in the UK are upheld and that they are housed in accommodation that is safe, habitable and appropriate to their needs.”