UK accused of housing asylum seekers in ‘squalid’ properties

UK's Home Office has been accused of placing vulnerable asylum seekers in squalid accommodation at short notice with no money. (Reuters/File Photo)
UK's Home Office has been accused of placing vulnerable asylum seekers in squalid accommodation at short notice with no money. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 22 March 2021

UK accused of housing asylum seekers in ‘squalid’ properties

UK's Home Office has been accused of placing vulnerable asylum seekers in squalid accommodation at short notice with no money. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Vulnerable refugees moved at short notice, in some cases more than once
  • People being left without access to funds for weeks: Charities

LONDON: The UK Home Office has been accused of placing vulnerable asylum seekers in squalid accommodation at short notice with no money, in some cases for weeks at a time.

The Home Office last month began “accelerating” the removal of 9,500 asylum seekers from hotels across the country to designated housing, but many say the conditions are unfit for human habitation, and they have been forced to wait weeks for money to live on.

Charities have described the process, known as Operation Oak, as “shambolic,” adding that people are also being moved multiple times, and that coronavirus disease protocols are not being observed by the private companies contracted to carry out the work.

One Kurdish man told The Independent that his family had been informed at 8 p.m. that they would be moving the next morning. They were transported to Birmingham from London, before being relocated to Ipswich.

“The first thing we noticed when we walked in was the bad smell. The kitchen was covered in grease all over the stove and the walls, and the cupboards were very unstable. The toilet was so dirty. The heater wasn’t working,” he said, adding that he was told a week after they arrived that it would take 25 days for the issues to be addressed, but that nothing had happened since then.

The Independent said it had received complaints about squalid conditions in Liverpool and Cardiff, and reports of people being moved multiple times were widespread.

Charities have raised alarms over delays in financial assistance being delivered to asylum seekers, with Refugee Action saying it is aware of 26 individuals who had been moved recently with no access to funds, including a mother with a new-born baby.

Leyla Williams, deputy director of community center West London Welcome, said the circumstances could cause intense distress for many asylum seekers.

“Identified potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery are expected to get into cars in which the driver refuses to tell them where they are being taken. Children are removed from their communities and schools without warning, their teachers and friends left wondering what has happened to them,” she added.

“People aren’t tested for (COVID-19) before they are moved to shared housing, and pandemic travel restrictions appear not to have applied to the Home Office. On arrival, people find housing in shocking states of disrepair.”

UK Immigration Minister Kevin Foster said: “The government has a statutory duty to provide accommodation to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute. We have provided free, safe and secure accommodation throughout the pandemic.”

Jenni Halliday, contract director for asylum accommodation at Serco, one of the largest private contractors, told The Independent: “Our teams are responding in the timescales required to address problems, and I am proud of the care and professionalism that they are demonstrating in these difficult times.”