Asylum seekers report widespread abuse in Home Office accommodation

Estimated read time 4 min read

Hundreds of complaints about ill treatment from staff looking after asylum seekers in hotels and other accommodation have been lodged with the Home Office, a Guardian investigation has found.

The complaints have been lodged within the last year and asylum seekers say that they include abuse and harassment, failures to deal with vulnerabilities such as mental health problems and serious self-harm, and staff walking into their bedrooms unannounced.

Data released to the Guardian after a freedom of information request showed there were 428 complaints over the last year about staff behaviour and the treatment of asylum seekers. A further 463 complaints were made about the meals provided, with problems mentioned including inedible food and a lack of milk for children.

The incidents took place in what the Home Office describes as initial accommodation. These are often hotels or a mass accommodation site that are run by their contractors. Asylum seekers contact the contractors when they have complaints about their accommodation and these are then passed on to the Home Office.

The Home Office said it was unable to provide a further breakdown of the type of concerns raised in the complaints.

One asylum seeker said: “When we complain, our complaints get closed down. A male member of staff opened our bedroom door with a key when my daughter was in there. I can’t sleep at night knowing staff have the key to our bedroom.”

A second asylum seeker said: “They provide very little milk for my children and they have rules restricting choices of the food that is served. They treat us like animals. Honestly, we suffer in this hotel.”

The charity Refugee Action documents complaints from asylum seekers in hotels. One involved a complaint from a woman who was a victim of sexual exploitation. Because of a problem with the door of her room, it could only be opened from the outside so she was reliant on staff to let her out. She claims a male manager said to her: “You can come and stay in my house next door.”

In another case, a doctor raised concerns about children being small in height and weight for their ages and suffering from vitamin deficiency.

Georgia Eracleous, a volunteer with the charity Care4Calais said: “Most of the security guards at hotels are men and sometimes they can come across aggressively. It can be intimidating for the asylum seekers when staff enter their rooms without permission. Some staff tell asylum seekers they are going to be deported even though these staff know nothing about their individual asylum claims.”

Tim Naor Hilton, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “The number of issues reported to the Home Office by people living in asylum housing is just the tip of the iceberg.

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“Problems often go unreported because people are worried that raising their voice will affect their asylum claim, or they will be disbelieved, denied or ignored. It’s vital that the next government tears up these rip-off contracts and properly funds councils to deliver housing and other services that can benefit their whole community.”

On Wednesday, a report by parliament’s cross-party public accounts Committee said 300 hotels were in use at the end of March, while the use of another 100 had been ended.

The report raised concerns about self-harm and suicide among asylum seekers in temporary accommodation and stated: “While the Home Office told us it incorporated safety measures into its contracts with providers, it could not provide any information about any penalties for falling below standards, despite reports of significant safety failures on sites.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Despite the number of people arriving in the UK reaching record levels, we continue to provide support for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute.

“The food provided in asylum hotels must meet NHS Eatwell standards and responds to all culture and dietary requirements. Where concerns are raised about any aspect of the service delivered in a hotel, we work with the provider to ensure these concerns are addressed and all complaints are dealt with seriously.”


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