The Government’s mammoth struggles with providing people seeking asylum with longer term ‘dispersal’ accommodation are not new. This is why it wasn’t surprising when it was announced that thousands of people would be placed in temporary hotels to manage the dearth of suitable housing.
Though we accepted this as an interim measure, we never expected that people seeking asylum – let’s remember, people who have fled unimaginable trauma and violence and are in desperate need of safety – would be left languishing in hotels for months and years even, without a solid plan for getting them out and into longer term housing in the community.
Hotels might be inextricably linked to holidays and relaxation, to putting your feet up and having fun. But for people seeking asylum, hotels are places you can’t check out from. It sees people stuck in limbo, their lives and aspirations on hold, being forced to endure the same boring, monotonous routine day after day, week after week. The reality is anything but a holiday.
With our new report launched last week, comes fresh evidence about the many issues surrounding this deeply unsettling experience.
Contrary to some headlines, we are not talking about luxury hotels. We are talking about hotels that are variable in quality, with many being remote and cramped. We are talking about whole families being forced to live in one room for weeks, even months on end. About children living out their childhood trapped between four walls of a hotel room, with no space to play and all too often locked out of education.
Angel and her three children have been living in a hotel since November 2021. Originally from Iran, the family find the prolonged stay in the hotel extremely stressful and worry intensely about the future. “The stress on my daughters is terrible. For one it shows in her period – she is 14 and has a period for 20 days, it is nonstop. I don’t know the English language so it is hard to get an appointment with a doctor. One of them visited a doctor once and she was put on the pill but she still has that long period and we don’t know what is causing that.”
We are also talking about hotels that can be unsafe, particularly for people who have often been forced from their homes and carry with them hugely traumatic, haunting experiences. One of our clients was forced to call the police when another hotel resident started threatening people with a knife and he didn’t know who to seek help from. A terrifying experience for anyone, but for a person seeking asylum from Eritrea living with complex health needs resulting from torture, this was almost too much to bear.
As we make clear in our report, a key issue is that people are having to stay in hotels for agonisingly long periods. The Home Office itself states that hotel accommodation should only be used as a last resort and that people should be moved into longer term housing after 35 days. But they repeatedly fail to meet this time-frame, with statistics showing that more than 10,000 people seeking asylum spent longer than 3 months cooped up in hotels in 2021, with many staying for over 6 months.
Time spent in a hotel is deeply unsettling – it is simply a lost period in peoples’ lives. The research found that the impact on individuals leads to them become depressed and deskilled, unable to progress their lives in any meaningful way or engage with their new communities. We hear almost daily accounts of the severely detrimental impact living in asylum hotels has on mental health, with depression and even suicidal ideation being very common.
Abu, from Sudan, was forced to flee home and a young family when a sudden military coup d’état put his life in grave danger. He describes hotel life as time spent feeling trapped and hopeless. “You don’t feel free. It makes me feel depressed and that I am wasting my time. I am 40 years old, I am not young anymore, it is taking important time from my life. I should be in my own home having life with my family and doing a job making a difference to others like I was before.”
In April 2021 we examined the issue of prolonged hotel stays and identified a range of serious problems and challenges resulting from insufficient support in asylum hotels. The Home Office went on to announce Operation Oak, a pledge to move people out of hotels by the end of the summer of that year.
But they have completely failed to do this, and today’s research – which has found that numbers of people staying in hotels actually trebled in 2021 – is our way of highlighting this desperately worrying issue once more, and calling on the Home Office to finally do better.
Our calls to Home Office are clear. First and foremost, it must stop failing to meet its own standards by keeping people crammed in hotel rooms for longer than 35 days. People must be moved into dispersal accommodation within 35 days.
The Home Office must introduce a clear and transparent plan for transferring people out of hotels and housing them in communities.
And the Home Office has to work more closely and meaningfully with its key stakeholders so that they are no longer left in the dark when a new hotel opens and prevented from supporting people as best they can.
As we gear up to welcoming a new Prime Minster later this year, let this be a reset moment, an opportunity to tackle this issue head on, and start treating people who come to this country in need of protection with the dignity and support they need.
Name has been changed to protect identities.
 Name has been changed to protect identities.