Asylum hotelsBlog

This blog series features the voices of those who are housed in hotels in the North West while waiting for their asylum claim to be processed. The last blog explored the emergence and context of the hotels policy. This blog focuses on food and living conditions in hotels. In future blogs, we will hear about the lack of privacy, arbitrary and opaque rules, and the difficulties of raising a complaint; difficulties of moving on and the sense of being stuck in limbo; and finally, drawing on these interviews, our demands for dignified asylum accommodation – in communities, not camps.
All names are changed to protect anonymity. I am also not disclosing the location of hotels for the same reason.

Written by Will Wheeler, Researcher at GMIAU

Right-wing portrayals of ‘hotel Britain’ depict lives of leisure and luxury – full-board accommodation, with not a care in the world. The people I spoke to living in hotels told a different story about living conditions in hotels – with a particular focus on food. Fereshteh, from Iran, was living in the hotel as a single mum with her toddler and baby son.

Fereshteh: When I arrived, the food was really, really bad, but now, it’s much better… but it’s not healthy.

Will: What does really bad look like?

Fereshteh: You know, we had chicken wing with feather, feathers on the top. They didn’t take time to clean it… you know, it was like that. But now, it’s much better, it looks nice, but the taste is different the one we used to eat, normally, in my country, in my culture. But it’s good, now it’s very good.

Will: But you say it’s still not healthy?

Fereshteh: No, it’s not healthy. All of them are fried food, frozen food. It’s not fresh. And, we have soup very rarely, it’s not really healthy. You know, sometimes they give fish cake as child food, and a few days later, they have that fish cake as adult food, you know – it looks like they open a box, whatever left, they use for another meal.

Fereshteh had a six-month old baby when I talked to her. When I asked if there had been any provision for when she was pregnant, she replied, No. It was same. Her midwife had apparently tried to advocate with Serco, but nothing changed.

Fereshteh: Before, the Home Office paid £5 for pregnancy every week, but when I came, they told me they stopped paying because you are at a hotel, which is full board – but it’s not like that! I tried hard, sending emails, but they said no.

Will: Who did you send emails to?

Fereshteh: Migrant Help. They said, you have to talk with Serco to provide whatever you need, and, at Serco, you – no, they can’t do much, you know – they can’t prepare another food for, for example pregnant women. They said, it’s same, or you can have children food. And children food is not better than the adult food. It’s just different. … It’s same, all the time – they have nuggets, in different shapes. And fish cakes. Things like that.

At this point, Fereshteh’s friend Maryam joined the interview, explaining through an interpreter that the food was greasy and lacked flavour. The rice provided was dry, the pasta reheated from the previous day. She told me how her 15-year-old son had lost 8kg in the four months they had been in the hotel. Fereshteh added that her toddler had stopped putting on weight – so she was using the weekly £9.10 to buy him things he liked, like peanut butter, honey, breadsticks. But buying food was problematic as they didn’t have access to a fridge, and, as Fereshteh pointed out: We don’t have permission to cook in the room, we can’t heat a meal at least, you know – otherwise, all people could have something healthier.

Both Fereshteh and Maryam talked about the difficulties of parenting in the space of the hotel. There is no creche, and a playgroup just once a week, which a nurse attends intermittently. Children always have to accompany parents at mealtimes – if Maryam’s teenage son goes to lunch without her, they ask where his parent is. Fereshteh shares her small, cramped room with the toddler and the baby – who have different sleeping patterns. A glass table in the room is unsafe for the infants. The hotel is in a general state of disrepair: Maryam described the cracked washing basin and damaged bathtub in her room; the elevator is broken, and going up and down the stairs to her room is a challenge as she has a bad knee. They both also talked of the difficulty of living with lots of different nationalities all mixed – and complained of others in the hotel making noise through the night. Maryam felt threatened by the fact that the lobby was always full of crowds of men she didn’t know – worrying about potential bad influences on her son.

Food thrown away

Eima, the Sudanese volunteer I met in a homeless day centre, was more positive about the state of the hotel, and was even tactful in her description of the food:

The hotel… the rooms are comfortable. The rooms are comfortable… The food, the way they cook, maybe this food will be fit for other people, but for us, no. This is not complain for me, some people also, especially the Arab people, yeah, they don’t like the food… The first month, maybe, the second month, will be acceptable for them… but, after that, all of them, you know, most of the food they are throwing away!

She described how her teenage son kept asking her to cook for him – but, of course, it was impossible. Eima already had a history of high blood pressure, and now the hotel food was causing her cholesterol to rise. I asked what could be done to improve the food: I don’t think they can do something, because they are changing the chefs sometimes, but still, I don’t know why, still the problem, the same, since we came … I think the majority [of the chefs] were British, that’s why… they don’t like the flavour, spicey … Sometimes we are telling to each other: if they let us to cook, it’s better – let’s go inside and cook and help them!

At the end of the interview, Eima suggested that instead of hotels, people should be put in smaller, shared houses, where they could cook for themselves.

Even like this they will save money, a lot of food they are just throwing, a lot of food, I saw it myself! Even the people, they are not eating, they are taking from there just a little, then – in the garbage. Many time I had to tie up the garbage, many time, I saw it a lot.

When I queried why she was tying up the garbage, she clarified: No, I help them. Nobody ask me, but me. If I see something messy, I will do it. Nobody’s asking me!

Isolation and confinement

Yousef lives in an all-male asylum hotel in the countryside. All-male hotels attract even more demonisation, as the predominantly young men housed inside can be seen in racialised, threatening terms. This hotel is very isolated – located on an A-road several miles outside the nearest town. A local charity has helped residents with bikes, but cycling on the busy road can feel dangerous. It is particularly difficult for Yousef, who has injuries from being tortured, as well as being asthmatic. He told me how the other day he had collapsed from the bike ride and ended up in hospital. The hotel’s isolation was problem number 1, he said. Problem number 2 was the staff, who often failed to help – we’ll hear more about this in the next blog.

Three. Sometimes the food not good. … We not have a restaurant, the food – they bring delivery, you understand my language? … They bring delivery, the food, they have like, small place – this small place, they bring the food, everybody coming, taking the food. Not have any hall, not have lobby, not have place for stay, not have place for eat, like restaurant, just take the food, to the room. Same place – eat, and sleep, and remember, and study, and everything is in this room. We not have any restaurant. … Also we need place for we stay together. We not have any place for stay together. Sometimes some people open their room for everybody come in, but it’s not good. What’s need – need like hall, or like a place stay talking together, watch TV, watch play, play billiard. This is life! Talk together, joking together. … This number 3.

Number 4 – everybody two, two person living in one room. You know, sometimes the culture is different, the culture is different. I’m living in this room but, I have another person from Africa. Different culture, different situation. Also I have a problem, I have a problem because I remember, every time I remember my situation, I remember they torture me, before, because I am tortured in, you see [he showed me a scar]. Sometimes when I remember that situation, sometimes I cry, when I living in my room. Because I have another person living with me, room-mate, because this, I know – not good for him. Because sometimes I cry, I talk with myself, in the night.

Here, then, are some of the realities of ‘Hotel Britain’: Yousef, isolated, confined with a stranger in their room amidst his intrusive, noisy memories; children losing weight as their mothers are not allowed to cook for them; chicken with feathers in it, reheated pasta; the absurdity of food thrown away while people who are willing and able to cook for themselves go hungry. And Eima, going out of her way to help the hotel staff by tying up the garbage, although no one asked her.

For more on asylum hotels, please see our briefing, Housing injustice in asylum hotels, and first blog from this series. Follow us on Twitter to keep up with our work.