'Serious concerns' at risk of UK asylum seekers to second coronavirus wave

28 July 2020, 08:32

Officials were criticised for housing asylum seekers in hotels after the Glasgow attack
Officials were criticised for housing asylum seekers in hotels after the Glasgow attack. Picture: Getty

By Ewan Somerville

Stronger action needs to be taken to protect people in asylum accommodation from the risk of a second wave of coronavirus, MPs have said.

A report by the Commons Home Affairs Committee said the continued use of shared rooms makes it "extremely difficult" for people to keep to social distancing guidance and called for it to stop.

The MPs warned they had heard evidence that shared facilities in some asylum accommodation, such as bathrooms and kitchens, were making sticking to the one-metre-plus rule and self-isolation “all but impossible”.

"In some cases, individuals did not have access to laundry facilities or sufficient supplies of cleaning products such as soap or hand sanitiser. During a national health crisis this is simply not acceptable,” they said. 

The Home Office said no asylum seekers newly entering accommodation during the pandemic have been placed in a room with non-relations.

The report also raises “serious concerns” that, in some cases, large numbers of residents were moved between different accommodation at short notice without proper support or the involvement of local authorities.

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The committee was critical of the Mears Group, a company contracted by the Home Office to manage asylum accommodation.

Large numbers of asylum seekers were moved from one location to another “in a rush, without consulting local authorities or ensuring proper support is in place”, MPs said. 

The committee said it was “particularly troubled” between different kinds of accommodation in Glasgow in March, and from Wakefield in July.

In Glasgow, more than 300 asylum seekers were moved from self-contained accommodation to hotels “without sufficient notice and without a vulnerability assessment demonstrating that the move could be made safely,” the MPs said. 

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They added that the Home Office approach of informing service users where they could obtain free WiFi locally was “completely inappropriate and may have increased the risk of infection”.

Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: "Much more needs to be done by providers and the Home Office to make sure that there are safeguards in place to prevent the virus spreading within asylum accommodation."

She went on: “We heard how proper support was not put in place for residents, leaving some people in difficulty and distress, while local authorities were not informed about what was happening to ensure that public health was being protected."

Hotels used as accommodation for asylum seekers in Glasgow
Hotels used as accommodation for asylum seekers in Glasgow. Picture: Getty

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We take the wellbeing of all those in the asylum system extremely seriously.

"As noted in the report, we have taken many measures to reduce the risk of transmission in these unprecedented times.

"This includes reducing the number of people in immigration detention and providing free temporary accommodation to asylum seekers to ensure social distancing, where free meals, toiletries and other support measures are provided."

Earlier this month the Home Office launched a review into concerns over housing asylum seekers in hotels following a knife attack in Glasgow.

Badreddin Abadlla Adam, 28, from Sudan, was shot dead by police after his attack at the Park Inn Hotel in June, which left six people injured including 42-year-old Police Constable David Whyte.

Mears Group said at the time it would try to get those living in hotels back to houses and flats as soon as possible.