The “dehumanization” of refugees in temporary hotel accommodation
It’s something we all take for granted – at least a decent pair of shoes. Without proper footwear, we couldn’t take our daily walk, a staple in pandemic times when we had to endure months of confinement. We couldn’t take the bus, attend a doctor’s appointment, or do day-to-day activities. We would end up with dirty, cold, sore, blistered feet.
Yet for people seeking asylum in temporary hotel accommodation, this has been all too common throughout the pandemic. And it’s not just shoes, many asylum seekers didn’t have a coat or a change of clothes. Most of them arrived in the UK, having fled war and persecution, literally with the clothes on their backs. You don’t have the luxury of packing a suitcase when fleeing civil war and terrorism, you just use whatever means of escape you can, hoping that you will somehow survive and find a safe and welcoming country where you can offer your skills and have a chance to rebuild your life.
The UK should be a safe and welcoming country for asylum seekers. As the fifth richest country in the world, we certainly have the resources to provide the basic level of support that asylum seekers need to survive while their claim is being processed.
The Home Secretary repeatedly insists that “fairness” is at the heart of the government’s asylum policy. Yet we have seen people being treated with a lack of compassion and humanity in temporary hotel accommodation, where asylum seekers are increasingly accommodated as the pause in deportations temporarily overwhelms the support system. at the asylum. Take, for example, the single mother whose three children were unable to eat the terrible food they were given in hotels, leading to one of her children being hospitalized. Or the man with underlying kidney problems and insufficient access to clean water. To them, their treatment seems far from fair.
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The Refugee Council has been accompanying people placed in hotels for more than a year, and they told us that the confinement resembles a prison, and that they feel “abandoned and forgotten”. Deteriorating mental health is common, with people self-harming and having suicidal thoughts. This is unfortunately not surprising, considering what they had to endure.
After fleeing trauma and violence in their home country, and often in transit to the UK, they were placed in low-budget hotel rooms, usually in the middle of nowhere, with no kitchen. Many have no mobile phone, no spare clothes and very limited access to health care and legal advice. They are forbidden to work, so they cannot do anything to improve their situation.
This is not the ‘global Britain’ we want to see, with people stripped of their dignity to such an extent that they contemplate suicide. We can do better than that.
A fair asylum system, where people are treated humanely while waiting for their claim to be processed, is not difficult to implement. This does not mean that people live in luxury; rather they have access to basics like a pair of outdoor shoes, access to a GP and food that meets their nutritional needs. No one should suffer because they have no money and therefore cannot buy bandages or a packet of paracetamol.
As the government consults on its new immigration plan, which proposes to build reception centers where all asylum seekers will live while awaiting a decision on their application, it should look into the mistakes that have been made during the pandemic. As the Windrush Lessons Learned report states, it is essential that when making decisions, the Home Office sees the “face behind the case”. Those who have sought safety in the UK must be able to live in safety, good health and treated with dignity.