MP’s shock at living conditions for asylum seekers

24 December 2021

AN MP has met with representatives of more than 50 refugees in a Scottish hotel amid reports about conditions inside the premises and allegedly degrading treatment by Home Office accommodation contractor Mears Group.

Volunteers Sheena, a dentist from Bearsden, and IT consultant Umran deliver a box of food to asylum seekers at a Falkirk hotel

SNP MP John McNally met asylum seekers housed in the Cladhan Hotel in his Falkirk constituency on condition of anonymity, as many of the 53 fear they will be punished for speaking up.

They said Mears staff had been asking who has been speaking to the press and NGOs about allegations of substandard food and the run-down conditions in the hotel, and have asked to be placed in their own accommodation where they can try to resolve their status and rebuild their lives.

One man said:

We are tired of being shifted from country to country and hotel to hotel. We were told by Mears that we would be given accommodation before we came to Scotland. That’s not true.

“Some of us have been shifted from hotel. Even now we are frightened of being shifted to other hotels and being uprooted away from lawyers in Glasgow, because there are no immigration lawyers in Falkirk.

“We have spoken with our Member of Parliament and are due to meet with anti-racist groups and unions based in Falkirk.

“The tension for the asylum seekers is growing, we are not being told when we will be put in accommodation, we are just in limbo. The food is substandard and insufficient. The way the staff speak to us is dehumanising.”

The Home Office policy of using hotels across the UK to house asylum seekers was supposed to be an emergency measure, but the charity Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) said that was no longer the case:

“It is the new post-Covid normal. It includes dumping around 100 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.”

McNally said he intended to ensure the provision of whatever support was necessary to reassure the 53 asylum seekers inside the hotel that Falkirk welcomes refugees.

“I’m shocked to hear that asylum seekers are being shifted between hotels repeatedly,” said the MP. As the local representative, he said he had a responsibility to make sure his constituents’ concerns were listened to, and intended to raise the matter directly with the Home Office.

“It was extremely disconcerting to hear first-hand, the manner in which human beings are being shunted from one hotel to another, from Belfast to Falkirk, and also from cities around England to Falkirk,” he said.

“I am calling on the Home Office and its accommodation contractor Mears to pause any moves to other hotels, and to provide accommodation to the men so they can begin to settle down.

“The indefinite length of time spent in the hotel is definitely adding stress to the people inside and this is something we are monitoring closely.”

Among the allegations is that over the past two weeks the refugees have been give “substandard” food, including uncooked, foul-smelling chicken – an incident that allegedly happened following media reports about conditions in the hotel.

Some of those in the hotel claimed they are denied clean clothing for days at a time as clothes are taken to a laundry in Glasgow.

There have also been claims that 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 also say they have no privacy or independence.

PAIH director Robina Qureshi told The National:

“The biggest concern is that Mears may attempt to shift individual asylum seekers around the ‘hotel estate’ in Scotland, England or Northern Ireland during Christmas and new year as punishment for speaking up about the controls exerted on them from Mears.

“They have already had their food degraded so they are fearful of other abuses of power. It’s apparent the staff inside are under pressure from above to keep asylum seekers quiet and compliant and not raise a fuss … There’s a lot of fear and isolation, zero knowledge of asylum rights, very few people speak English, though they are desperate to attend English classes and find lawyers, though both are non-existent in Falkirk.

“People are desperate to send a petition to the First Minister and PM Boris Johnson to highlight their treatment, and the need to move into accommodation so they can attempt to settle and push forward with their asylum claims.”

A Mears spokesperson said the claims made by PAIH were not accurate, and added:

“In Glasgow, all service users were moved on from hotels in the summer.

“We are only using one hotel now for the purpose of quarantine. There are currently two pregnant females in the hotel but they have been there for weeks and we are arranging suitable accommodation.

“The plan is for moves to take place within days.”

A UK Government spokesperson said almost 80% of migrants were satisfied with the help they received, and defended the new Nationallity and Borders Bill.

They said:

Falkirk Council, like almost all Scottish local authorities, does not participate in the dispersal scheme to accommodate asylum seekers. As a result, the UK Government is forced to find contingency hotel accommodation.

“Despite having to deal with unprecedented pressures on the asylum system, we continue to ensure that taxpayer-funded accommodation is safe, comfortable and secure. We take complaints extremely seriously and absolutely refute any suggestion that people need to be anonymous in order to complain.

"Our own surveys of residents show that nearly 80% are satisfied with Migrant Help and the issue reporting process. Our Nationality and Borders Bill will deliver the most comprehensive reform in decades to fix the broken asylum system.”

(Reprinted from the National)

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