LONDON: The UK Home Office has refuted allegations of harassment, humiliation and abuse of asylum-seekers staying at hotels in and around Liverpool.
On Saturday, accusations were made against staff of Home Office subcontractor Serco of creating a culture of “institutional abuse” at five hotels in the Merseyside area, including the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, where far-right violence and anti-migrant protests erupted earlier this year.
The allegations, which were reported in The Observer newspaper, included mistreatment of asylum-seekers with mental health issues, the use of racial slurs and the denial of basic necessities such as food and water.
According to the newspaper, sources said hotel staff were given little to no training, were instructed by senior management not to provide hot beverages, including in the colder winter months, and that chefs felt “under constant pressure” to make fewer, cheaper meals.
“I really worry about what happened to the service users when I wasn’t there — there were so many safeguarding issues, I felt so guilty leaving but I couldn’t stay, for my own mental health,” one Serco staff member told the newspaper.
“I believe that no matter where you’re from, you’re entitled to a nice life, but instead they’re being bullied because they’re vulnerable. They’ve got no one to stand up for them,” the staff member added.
A Home Office statement said in response: “We have thoroughly investigated these allegations, but cannot find any evidence to substantiate them. The wellbeing and safety of those in our care is paramount,”
It added: “We have robust safeguarding measures and dedicated welfare teams across all asylum sites to ensure that every asylum-seeker is treated with dignity and has access to the support they need.”
More than 50,000 asylum seekers are housed in Home Office-run hotels, which, according to reports, costs the British taxpayer £6 million ($7.4 million) per day. In 2019 Serco was awarded a £1.9 billion contract to manage accommodation over a 10-year period.
“Serco has rigorously investigated the claims that have been put to us by the Observer and found that they are without foundation,” a statement from the firm said. “They do not have any basis in fact and contain a number of significant inaccuracies, which, as we have pointed out to the Observer, significantly undermines the credibility of their story.”
It continued: “No complaints have been made by any asylum-seekers in our care directly to us via the Serco whistleblowing line or through any of the comprehensive, robust and independent complaint procedures that are available to asylum-seekers, our employees and partners.
“We have a high regard for, and confidence in, the teams at both the hotels and strongly believe they perform a challenging role with professionalism and compassion for the people in their care.”