Across the country, tens of thousands of people seeking asylum are being housed by the Home Office in hotels for months or years on end while they are waiting for their asylum claim to be processed. Hotels vary in quality, location and access to services. In all of them, people are deprived of autonomy, segregated from mainstream society, and living in cramped conditions sharing rooms either with other family members or strangers. Private contractors – Serco in the North West – are reaping billions in profits, while people housed in hotels are banned from working and given just £9.10/week.

This is a separate issue from the widespread use by local authorities of hotels and B&Bs as temporary accommodation for homeless people. But together they form a wider picture of housing injustice in the UK, whereby institutional accommodation is deemed an acceptable last resort for neglected and demonised populations who deserve better – who deserve a place they can call home.

Look out for our blog series starting today, going into more detail on life in asylum hotels and sharing the lived experience of people in them.

Why is this happening?

Under the asylum dispersal model introduced by the New Labour government more than two decades ago, people seeking asylum would spend a few weeks in a hostel, before being ‘dispersed’ on a no-choice basis to housing anywhere in the country – predominantly in run-down areas where housing is cheap. Today, however, there is an acute shortage of dispersal accommodation – this is because Home Office decision making on asylum claims has effectively ground to a halt, with 160,000 people currently awaiting a decision on their initial asylum claim. The Home Office’s failure to clear the backlog means that they are resorting to accommodating people long-term in hotels.

People waiting interminably in hotels for their asylum claim to be processed face a double injustice. First, they are denied access to recognition as refugees, while often – amidst a severe shortage of legal aid providers – being excluded from access to legal representation. Second, they are denied the right to a home where they can begin to rebuild their lives.

Injustice in asylum hotels

Before hotels became an issue, asylum accommodation was often substandard, run by unaccountable private providers – a clear case of housing injustice. All those issues are exacerbated significantly in asylum accommodation.

  • Closer to detention than home:
    • Confining people seeking asylum in hotels is a form of racialised segregation from mainstream society – especially in the most isolated hotels, located deep in the countryside or on industrial estates.
    • People are deprived of autonomy – not allowed to cook for themselves and given culturally inappropriate, usually very unhealthy food.
    • Living in these dehumanising and undignified conditions over extended time periods can have severe impacts on mental and physical health.
  • Grey zones with opaque rules and limited accountability:
    • Rules are unclear and can be formulated on an ad hoc basis by hotel staff, who – with no relevant experience and limited training – effectively become the faces of the British state.Voluntary sector workers and local authority representatives can struggle to access hotels – although LA representatives have statutory duties regarding the welfare of those inside. Reports of abuse and intimidation by staff are common – including threats that people will be removed to Rwanda if they complain. People are understandably afraid of protesting – despite this, there have been courageous acts of protest, including a hunger striker in Stockport protesting about the ‘inhumane and degrading treatment’ in the hotel, and a rooftop protest in Carlisle.
    • But protest carries its own risks, with the protest in Carlisle being filmed by a far-right vlogger, attracted tens of thousands of views.
  • Hypervisibility in the public eye and scapegoating:
    • Although locations are not officially published, asylum hotels are obvious to local residents and lists have been published by The Daily Mail and far-right websites.
    • This puts residents at risk of racist violence – and also keeps asylum at the top of toxic political agendas.
    • In a blatant piece of dishonesty, the government blames people for daring to seek sanctuary, rather than the Home Office for its failures in decision making.
    • This scapegoating is a divide-and-rule tactic – feeding complaints about so much money being spent on ‘looking after’ people seeking asylum, while so many others in Britain struggle to access housing. This diverts attention from the long-term roots of the housing crisis in half a century of neoliberalism and a decade-plus of austerity. Instead, inflammatory anti-refugee rhetoric encourages people who face other forms of housing injustice to blame people seeking asylum.

What would justice in asylum housing look like?

The government is using hotels to justify further plans that will only deepen the injustice – the Illegal Migration Bill, which will effectively ban people from claiming asylum; and plans to house people seeking asylum in military camps and barges. The government claims that these plans will deter people from seeking asylum and save the taxpayer money. They will fail to do either – and, most importantly, they will inflict unnecessary suffering on people who have fled war and persecution.

An alternative way to resolve the issue – which is both just and workable – would be to clear the asylum backlog and recognise people as refugees, rather than keeping them stuck in limbo. Statistics suggest that 75% of those seeking asylum will eventually get granted refugee status and go on to become British citizens. Warehousing them in hotels achieves nothing other than to rip years out of people’s lives.

We stand together with those confined in asylum hotels to demand for people to be housed in communities not camps. Instead of pouring taxpayer money into unaccountable and uncaring multinational corporations, asylum accommodation should be managed by well-resourced local government, in partnership with the voluntary sector. Accommodation should be safe, dignified, and offer autonomy – giving people the chance to put down roots and rebuild lives.

While the current situation persists, the government must take urgent action to improve conditions in asylum hotels by consulting with local government and the voluntary sector – and listening to the expertise born of lived experience.

What can you do?