UK: Asylum seekers ‘fear for their lives’ if Home Office moves them to Dunstable
Asylum seekers in a south London hotel have said they fear for their lives if the Home Office moves them at short notice to a far-right-focused area.
Speaking outside their hotel in Greenwich last week, the asylum seekers said the Home Office had moved many of their friends to a hotel in Bedfordshire without notice.
Previously housing at least 134 refugees, the asylum seekers said they now have at least 30 men in their hotel from Afghanistan, Eritrea, India, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
But in the past month, most of the men have been moved to a second hotel in Bedfordshire targeted by the far-right, and police are urging the asylum seekers not to leave the premises for their own safety.
But the dozens of men left in the Greenwich hotel said they fear the lives they have built over the past two years will be lost forever.
Some men found communities that welcomed them, gave them food from their homeland, began studying at local colleges, and registered for local health services that have provisions such as therapy and urgent medical care.
Building a life in South London
The names of the men who spoke to Middle East Eye have been changed for their safety while they await the outcome of their asylum claims.
Sami, a man in his 30s, described how he has built his life in south London since being sent there by the UK Home Office.
“When we first came here, we had no one to meet except the Home Office and the hotel staff who did nothing but worry and upset us,” said Sami, who has been at this South London hotel for almost a year and a half.
‘This hotel [in south London] not ideal, but at least we can study and live a life that is like life here’
– Abu Farah, asylum seeker
“But then charities like the Salvation Army provided us with money and clothes, helped us access services, and explained how to claim asylum here in Britain.
“When I first came here, I spoke very little English. My English has improved through my interactions with other people and charities that have come to me, and now they are trying to take us away from that support.”
The UK government usually provides asylum seekers with £8 per week. Sometimes charities give more money to the people who are helped.
The government also pays a third-party contractor to manage the asylum seeker’s accommodation and provide them with basic meals during their stay.
Abu Farah, also in his 30s, was angry and worried about plans to relocate him to Bedfordshire.
Having helped organize the asylum seekers to protest the transfer, Abu Farah said many of the men were anxious about their future and feared that threats from the far right would force them inside their new accommodation in Bedfordshire.
“We are still in touch with many of the people who used to live with us, and they tell us that the police and security outside the hotel are telling them not to go out too much,” said Abu Farah.
“It looks like a prison. What kind of life is this? This hotel [in south London] which is not ideal, but at least we can study and live a life that is like life here.”
Mona founded Bani Revoke, a local charity that helps refugee children and asylum seekers, and said the stability many of the men had found for the first time in years at the hotel was being swept away from them, often at a moment’s notice.
“We are talking about completely transient people who may have been on the move for three to five years trying to find safety and shelter and finally found some stability through no fault of their own in the hotel,” Bani told ME.
“We’ve dealt with stragglers or potential stragglers, and it’s always short notice when someone hasn’t been consulted in any way or knows where they’re going to be moved until a van or bus turns up.
Bani also highlighted how many men were receiving mental health care that meets their cultural needs, and would have to lose that provision if the Home Office moves them to a remote town that does not have an ethnically diverse population.
“There are waiting lists, and if you are here for a year and a half and finally got a therapist – you lose that. And when you move, you are back to square one.
“Those [mental] health services are widespread in London and it is sometimes difficult to replicate and be culturally aware of their circumstances and the trauma of displacement.”
Not ‘luxury hotels’
Placing asylum seekers in hotels is now a major issue in British politics.
The government has pledged to end the practice, which costs millions of pounds a year, amid protests against establishments hosting asylum seekers.
In February, asylum seekers transferred from their hotel in Greenwich to Dunstable said they were afraid to leave their hotel after locals filmed them when they went for a walk in the park.
According to the Guardian, the far-right group Patriotic Alternative is sending leaflets to the Dunstable area with leaflets naming the hotel that housed the asylum seekers and the slogan: “You pay, migrants stay.”
Earlier this year, members of Patriotic Alternative leafleted an area in Merseyside and clashed with pro-refugee activists after residents staged a violent demonstration outside a hotel where asylum seekers were staying.
The violent protest happened after rumors spread that some male asylum seekers had propositioned a teenage girl in the area.
Leaflets at the protest claimed that asylum seekers stayed in “five star hotels while the British were freezing”.
Bani emphasizes that it is a common misconception among the British public that asylum seekers who are housed in hotels are in luxury accommodation.
“People have a specific image of asylum seekers living in these hotels as luxurious. We are not talking about special hotels. These hotels are often chain hotels and spaces designed for temporary living and not for a long period of time , like a year,” said Bani.
“These asylum seekers often live in shared rooms where they do not have individual spaces, do not have access to kitchen facilities, and have no independence since they have to eat and sleep when food is delivered to them hotel.”
The UK Home Office said it did not comment on operational arrangements for individual sites but said it had contacted local authorities “as soon as possible” when booking certain hotels.
“The number of people coming to the UK and needing accommodation has reached record levels and has put incredible pressure on our asylum system,” a Home Office spokesperson told MEE.
“Using hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently over 45,500 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6 million a day.
“The use of hotels is a temporary solution, and we are working hard with local authorities to find suitable accommodation.”