Shocking new reports about the treatment of asylum seekers in hotels by Home Office Accommodation Contractors

20 December 2021

The Home Office policy of using hotels across the U.K. to shift asylum seekers about appears no longer to be an emergency measure. It is the new post-Covid normal. It includes dumping around one hundred people at a time in Scottish towns and cities, including Aberdeen, Perth and Falkirk. There is zero consultation with local authorities. There is no infrastructure of support for asylum seekers.

Once again, we are bearing witness to the highly questionable treatment of human beings residing in hotels arranged by the Home Office subcontractor Mears Group (The outsourcing company has a ten year £1.2B Contract until September 2029 to provide asylum housing for the Home Office).

For example, in Glasgow, a young asylum seeking couple are being accommodated in a hotel in Glasgow. They have been there for 13 months since November 2020. Their first baby is due next month. They receive no money but rely on charity and friends for handouts. A young family can't feel settled or secure in such an environment. 

In the Cladhan Hotel, Falkirk, we have new testimonies from some of the fifty three asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Palestine, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen. Several people claim to have lost weight because of a deterioration in the quality of the food provided. They say that for the past 15 days, they have been given substandard food , including uncooked, foul smelling chicken. This reportedly happened after the press carried reports about conditions inside.  Some of the men receive £8 a week, but most receive £0. Some buy a loaf of bread and honey from the local Lidl to supplement the inadequate food. They are dependent on the hotel WiFi to be able to make and receive calls or send texts. Phone data is expensive. They say they are denied clean clothes for days at a time. Clothes are taken to a laundry in Glasgow to be washed. They are unable to travel. They say the hotel building is leaking in different parts and buckets have been put out to catch the water. Last week, a strong smell of gas led to the building being evacuated. The men complain about loss of privacy & independence. They say that Mears does not like asylum seekers to speak with the press or external organisations. Others prefer to stay quiet out of fear of adversely affecting their asylum claim or being uprooted to another part of the country. One person said: 

“Some of us have been living in hotels for over 6 months. People are suffering mentally. We were promised the earth when we first arrived. But now it’s a different face, no smiles, its oppressive, like we are being punished. Mears forced us to come to Falkirk from England and Belfast. We had no choice. Some of us received a letter stating that we would be transferred to houses in Scotland. They intentionally hid the fact that we would end up living in a hotel in Falkirk. Then they promised us that asylum seekers in the hotel would have access to English classes and that  10 NGOs were ready to help us with recreational activities but nothing of that happened. Each time they transfer us, we have to start all over again with a new solicitor. All we want is proper accommodation now so we can contribute in a positive way to Scotland.” 

In another hotel, a recently arrived asylum seeker from Iran tells me that since arriving here in July 2021, he has been moved no less than EIGHT times to different hotels between England and Scotland. He says he spent five days in a hotel in Gatwick. He was then driven  150 miles to a hotel in Birmingham for 13 days. He was then taken 289 miles to Glasgow where he stayed in a succession of three different hotels. He was then taken 150 Miles away to a hotel in Newcastle for three weeks, then 250 miles to Aberdeen for 17 days and then 250 miles back to another hotel in the North of England. He has had to look for a new lawyer each time he moves and his asylum claim has been delayed repeatedly. He suffers from chronic health problems. His is no isolated case. How does a human being stay sane when they are forcibly moved without choice multiple times in a short space of time? How do they find a lawyer to take on their case? How do they put down roots?

With the use of hotels comes the assumption that human beings are rootless and transient. Multiple moves appear justifiable. People can be moved suddenly, on the assumption that they have no connection to a community anyway.  Perhaps it’s what the Home Office wants: avoid people becoming part of a community that could support them the way the people of Glasgow stood up for two immigrants facing a dawn raid in May 2021.

Few people are willing to speak up. Who or what makes them so scared? The asylum system is fear-based by design, inspiring silence and compliance.  It  makes people feel vulnerable and off balance. It means fewer complaints from a community of people who are often fearful of displeasing their “landlord”. They do not know their rights, often English is not their first language. They are effectively monitored by the Home Office and its sub contractors, Mears, Migrant Help helpline and  Prepaid Financial Services, which provides their payment card and can track their spending.

The oppressive environment and multiple hotel moves make sense only if the Home Office and it's accommodation providers were regarding asylum seekers as an uncomplaining “product”.  The “product” consists of desperate men, women and children  fleeing persecution and seeking protection, delivered to the accommodation providers by a network of human smugglers. For an outsourcing company with its eye on its public image, and share prices, this is a dream. Don’t blame Covid 19. This is routine cruelty, more slow violence designed to break the human spirit.

The Home Office has learnt precisely nothing  from the Park Inn tragedy or any of the other deaths that took place since Lockdown began. The pressure on asylum seekers continues.

Robina Qureshi

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