BY| Refugee Action

People and families in asylum accommodation are being held indefinitely in conditions that actively harm their physical and mental health, according to a new report by Refugee Action.

Hostile Accommodation is based on analysis of client case notes from mid-2021 to January 2023 and an in-depth survey of 100 people the charity is supporting in Manchester, Birmingham and London.

Problems created by bad accommodation will be made much worse by Government plans to lock up tens of thousands of refugees in indefinite detention under new legislation, Refugee Action says.

Refugee Action’s research found:

Families and individuals are in hotels for longer periods of time, with one in three adults and more than one in four families with children surveyed staying more than a year;
People are being held in de-facto detention in which their movements are monitored and limited, their accommodation inspected without notice, and their possessions confiscated;
Poor accommodation results in a huge, sometimes life threating, impact on health as people with chronic conditions are hospitalised by unhealthy food and disabled people left in accommodation they struggle to access and leave;
Children are unable to access or are dropping out of education and living in conditions that are worsening mental health problems and creating development issues and some mothers too malnourished to breastfeed their baby.

People in asylum accommodation who complain have been threatened with police or deportation to Rwanda, or banned from common areas. In one case, people holding a peaceful protest were warned by police and told to leave the accommodation if they were unhappy.

Families with children are meant to be prioritised for dispersal to longer-term housing, but nearly 40 of the 62 families (58%) with children surveyed had been held in hotels for more than six months and one in four families had been stuck for more than a year.

In one case, a family of six had been living in one room for over 12 months. In another, a family including a pregnant woman with two children have been held since December 2021 in a small room with one double bed and one sofa bed, where the children sleep.

The report reveals that people’s movements are limited and monitored. One in four people reported restrictions on their movement, such as being told they’ll be evicted if they leave their hotel.

Movement has also been restricted following an increase in the number of violent attacks against people in hotels by racist groups, leading to curfews.

People have been subject to random room searches. One woman’s room was searched by a housing provider without notice. Her belongings, including her insulin, were confiscated, which could have had life threatening consequences.

Poor food at hotels has been widely reported and creates health issues for all. But the health of Refugee Action clients with chronic illnesses has been put at serious risk. One man with diabetes was hospitalised after being left with no other option than to eat food that worsened his condition.

In fact, three in four people surveyed by Refugee Action said they had had problems with food, leading to malnutrition and hunger.

The impact on children in hotels is particularly acute, the report highlights. Almost one in three families surveyed said their children could not access education.

Children have been registered in schools far from the hotel so had to walk for hours for classes. Some children stopped education due to distance, lack of transport or inability to afford uniforms.

Disabled people and people with physical and mental health issues are having their needs ignored. One person in a wheelchair was housed on the 11th floor of a block of flats with a dysfunctional lift while another was put in a second floor flat with no adaptions to assist living. Both were left unable to leave their accommodation.

Analysis found one housing provider told a GP surgery not to give medical letters to request people to move out of inappropriate hotels because they said it put demand on dispersal accommodation.

The report highlighted that the misery people are being left to live in is happening as the private companies the Government has contracted to run asylum accommodation make huge profits.

Refugee Action is calling on the Government to work with and fund councils and NGOs to run integrated housing, support, and legal advice in communities and address the crisis in social housing.

Eli is from Iran and has been living with her three children in a hotel in the north-west for a year. She said:

“My children have no place to study. They are forced to do their homework either on beds, which are too soft to write their assignments on, or on the floor in a row cramped in a very small space.

“As a mother, I need to take care of their every single need and living in such a condition makes it impossible. They don’t have space to be a child and do normal things other children do.”

Niyan is from Afghanistan has been living in a former hotel building in London with his wife and three children, including a new-born baby, for more than a year. He said:

“The food is often half cooked, smells terrible, and taste like plastic. It’s not balanced. My children suffer from malnutrition, and my daughter is losing hair.

“And they didn’t observe any dietary requirements. Most of the people in our hotel are Muslim and at particular times like Ramadan, it’s tough.

“I can’t support my kids’ needs. It’s very hard as a father. My two kids go to school and every day, they need something new. How can I provide them with just £8 a week each?”

Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said:

“The government is running a system of de-facto detention – holding and segregating people seeking asylum in accommodation that is harming their mental and physical health.

“This demoralising and often brutal system costs the taxpayer millions per day but creates huge profits for contractors who are too often failing to make their housing habitable.

“The issues raised in this report will be made severely worse by the new Refugee Ban Bill – which will hugely expand the detention of people seeking asylum. The Bill must be torn up and the housing system overhauled and local authorities and NGOs properly funded to run an integrated housing, support and legal advice service.”

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