Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 5 December 2020

The frightening reality of asylum hotel life

Britain has 9,500 asylum seekers in temporary accommodation as MPs criticise government failures

He is an asylum seeker who escaped war-torn Sudan and travelled through eight countries before summoning the courage to step aboard a rickety boat to cross the English Channel at midnight.

He held on when that same boat broke down at sea and never restarted – disembarking only when police rescued them at first light.

But after arriving in safer territory, he has concluded that the promise of Britain “is all a lie”.

The National spoke to this Sudanese citizen and others like him at a Crown Plaza hotel in West Drayton, near Heathrow Airport, where asylum seekers say they confront the dull reality of a life lived in limbo.

The strain on the UK’s ability to rehome asylum seekers is such that the Home Office is now spending tens of millions of pounds on accommodating up to 9,500 asylum seekers in 100 hotels across the country as it scrambles to process the surge in migrant numbers crossing the nation’s borders.

The number of migrants living in hotels has increased more than 90 per cent from 1,200 in March.

A record 8,500 migrants reached UK shores this year. The Public Accounts Committee on Friday accused the government of creating a system that was “set up to fail”, despite the millions of pounds being poured into it.

‘No excuse’

The PAC said the Home Office had presided over the “wholly unacceptable failure” of not communicating properly with local authorities over the surge of arrivals.

It said it was “very concerned” asylum seekers were being placed in hotels rather than “more appropriate” accommodation.

The PAC said: “In one instance notified to the inquiry, a group of people were moved into a hotel in a different local authority area, at the last minute and without notifying either the relevant local authority or the NHS bodies affected.

“In another instance, the asylum services provider had told the affected local authority, but had not informed the local health commissioner that 160 asylum seekers were moving to a local hotel, who could need medical and other services.”

The PAC said that hotel use was high even before the coronavirus pandemic – blunting an argument that the movement of asylum seekers was put on hold to prevent transmission of the disease.

Asylum seekers held in British hotels say they are not coping. Ashraf Helmi/The National
Asylum seekers held in British hotels say they are not coping. Ashraf Helmi/The National

Labour MP Meg Hellier, the committee’s chairwoman, said: “Even at the pace of events there was no excuse for this lack of communication.

“The Home Office has cranked up the payments for these new contracts – now it must prove it can correspondingly crank up performance and deliver at least decent, suitable accommodation and services to people fleeing war and persecution to seek asylum in this country.”

Those who made the journey said that they had experienced racism, were not being fed properly and cannot get answers from the Home Office on when they will be allowed to leave the hotels, which they regard as prisons.

Others complained that hotel staff stopped providing them with water.

The asylum seeker, who we have chosen not to name, recalled the hospitality of his rescuers when he was pulled out of the broken-down boat by police officers.

He said their warm welcome was very different to his subsequent experiences.

“Thank God the police saved us, helped, gave us food and water,” he said.

“It was very kind, but now unfortunately we came here and it’s totally different. The water was better than where we are now.

“The water from the sea is better than the water we drink from the bathroom.”

He said he would rather be back in a German prison, where he was held for a year while authorities there tried to deport him to Sudan, before eventually deciding to release him.

MPs called on the government to find 'more suitable' accomodation for asylum seekers. Ashraf Helmi/The National
MPs called on the government to find 'more suitable' accomodation for asylum seekers. Ashraf Helmi/The National

“It was better than this ... it was better than this hotel,” he said.

By far the most common complaint in Britain’s asylum seeker hotels is the quality of food.

Another Sudanese refugee said they received three meals a day from the hotel but they cannot bring in food donated by charities.

“Ask anyone here what the food is like, and they’ll say it’s horrible,” he said.

Compounding the problems, he and several others said, is the uncertainty over what will happen next, as many said they had not heard from the Home Office in months.

“I want to settle down here. All we want is safety, nothing else,” he said.

“I’ve been waiting for a response from the Home Office since August. The process is long, I don’t know why. Some say it’s because of corona, but who knows?”

Home Secretary Priti Patel previously admitted that the system is broken and vowed to prevent refugees crossing the Channel, the main source of entry into Britain for asylum seekers.

Updated: November 22, 2020 06:53 PM

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