Record numbers of asylum seekers are languishing in hotels across the UK, leading refugee-supporting groups to highlight the dangers of long-term living in temporary accommodation.
The population of asylum seekers in Britain's hotels had almost tripled throughout 2021, with 26,380 people, 2,500 of them children, living in 207 hotels.
According to a recent Refugee Council report, the Home Office has failed to deliver on its plans to move people from hotels into dispersal lodging and is instead leaving families in limbo, with limited access to vital health, legal and other support services.
‘Lives on Hold: The Experiences of People in Hotel Asylum Accommodation', released as a follow-up to a similar report by the charity last year, reveals that men, women and children are spending increased periods of time in what was meant to be temporary accommodation, a situation providing further evidence of the UK’s damaged asylum system, the Refugee Council's chief executive says.
“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," said Enver Solomon. "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."
A comparison with figures from two years previously shows a worrying over-reliance on temporary accommodation to house an increasing number of migrants.
In 2019, the government used 24 hotels to house 1,490 supported asylum seekers but by the end of 2020, 100 were being used to accommodate 11,076.
The duration of hotel stays is also on the rise.
Figures revealed in the Refugee Council report suggest that by the end of 2021, nearly 400 people had been living in hotel rooms for a year and almost 3,000 for more than six months.
But the scale of the issue is already significantly greater this year.
Record numbers of migrants crossing from France in small boats are expected to add even greater pressure to the UK's housing problems. As of early July, provisional government figures show that 13,749 migrants have made the crossing so far this year.
The evacuation of about 18,000 Afghans and British citizens to the UK under 'Operation Pitting’ in August 2021 is also likely to add to the country’s housing waiting list.
As of June this year, the Home Office confirmed that slightly more than 6,000 Afghans had been moved into permanent housing in the previous year, meaning thousands are still waiting in hotels across the country for a place to call home.
The government this year revealed that the taxpayer cost of housing asylum seekers and those evacuated from Afghanistan was nearly £5 million a day, or £1.8 billion a year.
A number of Afghan refugees who arrived in the UK last year have told The National of their frustration and despondency at living in hotels for prolonged periods.
One young woman who wishes to remain anonymous has been moved with her elderly parent to three different hotels within a year. She spoke of how unsettled she felt and how her living situation was limiting her ability to study or work.
She felt that the treatment of hotel staff towards her and her fellow refugee occupants was at times antagonistic, which left them feeling unwelcome.
These concerns are echoed in the Refugee Council report, which underlines the charity’s long-standing concerns over the effects of being housed in hotels for long periods on people’s health and well-being. Mr Solomon said depression was rife.
“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," he said. "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 on 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 report highlights cases of people with inadequate access to clothing, appropriate footwear and other basic essentials such as basic medicine, mobile phones and internet data.
The Refugee Council’s investigation suggests that many of those living in such accommodation have limited access to the vital legal and health services they desperately need while claiming asylum, and are cut off from the rest of society and support networks.
Refugees are often living in unsafe environments, due to an increase in far-right activity, regular harassment of people living in asylum hotels and the risks of people being trafficked from such establishments.
Mr Solomon said the UK government’s plans to outsource asylum seekers to Rwanda fails to address the problem.
“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," he said. "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.”