LONDON: “Ghettoized” asylum seekers in the UK have been the victims of at least 70 racist incidents since the start of last year while in state-provided accommodation, The Guardian reported, with campaigners suggesting that the real figure is much higher.
Data released via a freedom of information request spanning the period from Jan. 1, 2020 until July 13, 2021, included examples of harassment, threats and assault, including at a number of sites highlighted by activists and politicians as potentially unfit for purpose.
One asylum seeker from Yemen was a victim of racist abuse on two separate occasions, when far-right activists targeted him at hotel accommodation near London provided by the UK Home Office.
“They were driving around the hotel recording us on video,” the asylum seeker told The Guardian. “They were insulting us, swearing at us and screaming things like ‘Go out from our country, why are you eating our food? Go away from us, you are strangers here.’ We were too scared to go outside the hotel and felt like it was a prison we had to stay inside.
“We fled countries where there is a lot of torture and persecution and felt safe when we arrived here,” he said, “but when we saw this kind of racist attack, we felt we were not protected.”
The security of asylum seekers in hotels in particular appears to have worsened, with data showing the number of racist incidents rising from 13 across all of 2020 to 40 so far in 2021.
On Aug. 7, the far-right group Britain First uploaded a video saying a number of its members had impersonated journalists to target asylum seekers at hotels in the city of Hull.
Clare Moseley, founder of the refugee support group Care4Calais, called targeting “vulnerable” asylum seekers “extreme cowardice.”
In addition to hotels, a number of former military barracks have also been highlighted as being the sites of racist abuse, having previously been noted for other failings, leading to scrutiny from lawyers, journalists and politicians.
At Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire, Wales, which was closed in March just six months after it was opened to house refugees, only one incident was recorded across the total period.
But legal challenges and witness statements from former residents claim abuse was frequent, including assaults, rape threats, bottles, fireworks and rocks being thrown, and even an attempt to ram a refugee with a car.
At Napier Barracks in Folkstone, Kent, four incidents were recorded in 2020, and 12 so far in 2021.
The site became the focus of UK media attention after it was temporarily emptied in April amid an outbreak of the coronavirus, with residents claiming they were forced to live in dangerous, unhygienic conditions that prevented social distancing.
Campaigners believe that the true number of cases of racist abuse suffered by asylum seekers over the period is much higher.
“Ghettoizing people seeking safety in large-scale accommodations such as hotels and army barracks exposes them to harm,” said Maddie Harris of the Humans for Rights Network.
“The figures shown here are not an accurate representation of the level of racial abuse endured by the people we support.
“We have had numerous conversations with asylum seekers where they have told us how unsafe they feel due to frequent incidents of racial abuse that they have experienced in and around these accommodations,” she added.
A UK Home Office spokesperson told The Guardian: “It is unacceptable for anyone in asylum accommodation to experience hostile or racist incidents and we ensure each incident is thoroughly investigated.
“We work closely with a range of organizations to ensure immediate support and assistance is provided to people living in the accommodation and if needed escalate to law enforcement,” the spokesperson added.