A new report from the Refugee Council published today reveals the dehumanising conditions people fleeing war, violence and persecution endure while living in hotel accommodation during the pandemic.
The report, I sat watching life go by my window for so long, reveals that people have routinely lacked basic essentials such as shoes and coats, have been confined to their rooms for days on end while waiting for their one set of clothing to be cleaned, and have been left unable to access even basic healthcare despite many having complex health needs.
The Refugee Council has been working with hundreds of people seeking asylum in hotels and has witnessed the decline in people’s mental health resulting from their experiences, leading some to self-harm and experience suicidal thoughts.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Home Office has increased its use of hotels as people were not moving out of dispersal accommodation due to a pause in evictions once people had a decision on their asylum claim. Accommodation providers did not have alternative accommodation for them, so used hotels in many different towns and cities. At the end of February 2021, approximately 8,700 people were living in over 90 hotels across the UK. Many have been left living in low-budget hotel rooms for months on end.
Other areas of concern set out in the report include the quality of food provided failing to meet the nutrition needs of those with specific health conditions – such as a man with underlying kidney problems having insufficient access to drinking water – and people with mobility issues placed in higher floors of hotels with no lifts.
The lack of appropriate footwear has meant some residents could not exercise or travel to essential appointments, while adults as well as children housed in hotels lacked internet access, severely limiting their access to education, legal advice and vital health information.
Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:
“People who have fled war and persecution often arrive in the UK with just the clothes on their back, in urgent need of healthcare, nutritious food and other essentials such as toiletries. It’s appalling that they have had to suffer so much as a result of what to them feels like being abandoned in inappropriate accommodation with inadequate support for many weeks or months. The Home Office should have anticipated these basic needs and made sure they were provided for the children and adults in their care.
To prevent this dehumanising treatment from continuing, we call on ministers to promise that every person seeking asylum receives appropriate support, including access to healthcare, basic clothing and essential services. People seeking asylum should be able to live in dignity, rather than in conditions that worsen their health and well-being. As the Windrush Lessons Learned report stated, the Home Office must always see the ‘face behind the case’.”
The Refugee Council is calling on the Home Office to provide all people seeking asylum with a minimum standard of care, wherever they are housed, for lengths of stays in hotels to be reduced to no more than 35 days and for the use of hotels to be stopped as soon as possible.
Specific calls are for the Home Office to ensure that every person in the asylum system receives:
- Support to register with a GP.
- Basic clothing, e.g. coats and shoes.
- A small cash allowance for essentials, e.g. plasters, paracetamol and pens.
- Nutritious food in line with any dietary requirements.
- Support to register children in schools.
- Mobile data to access essential services.
- Information about accessing legal advice.