Refugee Council raises concerns around the impact of prolonged hotel stays on the health and wellbeing of thousands, including depression and even suicidal ideation amongst many
The use of hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum almost trebled in 2021, leaving thousands of families with limited access to vital health, legal and other support services.
The situation – which saw a staggering 26,380 people living in temporary hotel accommodation by the end of that year – is further evidence of the UK’s broken asylum system, said Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council.
The figures are revealed in a new report – ‘Lives on Hold: The Experiences of People in Hotel Asylum Accommodation’ – from the Refugee Council.
The report reveals that the problem sees men, women and children spending increased periods of time in accommodation designed to be temporary, with 378 people having been in hotel rooms for a year and almost 3,000 (2,826) for more than 6 months.
This is despite the Government’s ‘Operation Oak’ pledge to limit the use of hotels to house people in the asylum system and its promise to move people into longer term accommodation within 35 days.
The report discloses that the number of families housed in single hotel rooms has increased by nearly a third (27%) in 2021, including over 2,500 children (10% of the hotel population). This is the equivalent of over 100 classrooms of children being housed in accommodation with complete strangers, out of school and with no space to play.
The report underlines the Refugee Council’s long-standing concerns over the impact of being housed in hotels for long periods on people’s health and well-being, with depression and even suicidal ideation amongst many, including children, being rife.
The report also highlights cases of people having inadequate access to clothing, appropriate footwear and other basic essentials such as paracetamol, mobile phones and internet data.
The Refugee Council’s investigation suggests that many of those living in asylum accommodation have limited access to the vital legal and health services they desperately need while claiming asylum and are being cut off from the rest of society and support networks. They are often living in an environment which is not safe, due both to an increase in far-right activity and harassment targeted at people living in asylum hotels, as well as risks of people being trafficked from hotels.
The Refugee Council are supporting Abu, a 40-year-old from Sudan who was forced to flee home when a sudden Coup d’état by the military put his life in grave danger. He has been living in a Yorkshire hotel for nine months with no end in sight.
Abu says: “I feel trapped in these walls. 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.
“When I came to the UK I hoped for compassion and things would be ok. But I now revise myself, I don’t know if I will get the opportunity to use my education and skills and to have my family here. Why are they keeping us for such a long time like this? I try to still have hope. Some people are trying to help and I am thinking there must be light in the tunnel.”
Angel and her three children, aged 22, and twins aged 14, have been living in a hotel since November 2021. Originally from Iran, the family have found the prolonged stay in the hotel extremely stressful and they worry about how much longer it will go on for.
Angel says: “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.
“The school is quite far away. At the beginning, it was hard for me to make sure they got there safely. They need to get a bus and walk, it is over half an hour away. I didn’t get any financial support at the beginning so when the school sent us the letter and said they had a space I couldn’t take my children. I went to reception and said I don’t have any financial support to get my children to school today. Reception said they couldn’t help.”
The report stresses the overarching need to address the chronic delay in asylum cases being heard which has led to a huge backlog of people trapped in hotels and a system that is unable to cope as demand for accommodation increases. The Refugee Council’s key concern is that the Home Office has no clear plan for improving this and is failing to meet its own standards.
Additionally, the charity highlights cases where people face barriers and delays when they raise problems with relevant authorities. Also of concern is the fact that the Home Office continues to open up new hotels with little or no engagement with Local Authorities and Strategic Migration Partnerships who ordinarily play a pivotal role in the process of procuring asylum accommodation as well as organising wrap-around support. If services are not informed when new hotels are opened, it is much more challenging for charities like the Refugee Council to develop an operational service response.
The report includes 13 key recommendations which include ensuring people are not trapped in hotels for long periods, but moved into dispersal accommodation within 35 days, and ensuring that whilst people are in hotels they have access to quality legal advice early, as well as basic essentials like clothing, nutritious food and medicine.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:
“We are deeply disappointed that despite Government promises to move people out of hotels, the numbers of men, women and children trapped in unsuitable hotel accommodation has trebled in a year alone. The huge increase in the number of families and vulnerable children stuck between the four walls of a hotel room, from morning till night, is the brutal reality of a broken system.
“Far from the glitzy hotels people may imagine, these are not places anyone would want to stay in for long periods; they are cramped and unsafe. Hotel stays are days, weeks, months, and in some cases a year, stuck in limbo, cut off from society, unable to find work with children often missing out of vital education. The impact of this on people who have already endured extreme suffering is huge, damaging their mental health, robbing children of their childhood and leaving people unable to progress with their lives in any meaningful way, or participate in the lives of their communities.
“The Government is deflecting its failures with cruel and unworkable policies like that of the Rwanda scheme, rather than focusing on creating a fair, effective and humane asylum system which addresses the backlog of people trapped in the asylum system. The Government must ensure swift decisions are made so that those who have protection needs can stay in this country as a refugee, and those who do not can be supported to safely return to the country from which they came.”
Notes to Editor
- A person seeking asylum is someone who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded. All of those referred to in this report are people currently in the UK asylum system with an outstanding claim for asylum that is being processed by the Home Office.
- Independent Chief Inspector of Borders & Immigration report on Contingency Asylum Accommodation – May 2022.
- The Refugee Council takes safeguarding extremely seriously, for which reason names have been changed to protect identities.