Dominic Raab and Robert Jenrick have no idea how awful hotel accommodation is, yet want to ensure refugees in the UK suffer even more
Last week saw yet more cruel rhetoric from the government towards refugees. The focus was on accommodation, with ideas (which aren’t new) to house people in disused military bases and even moored cruise ships now being floated.
Presently, many refugees are housed in hotels whilst they wait months and years for decisions on their claims. Unable to work, they are entirely reliant on the state for support, yet the level of support provided already meets what can generously be described as the bare minimum. Those in hotels receive food, which is often of a shockingly poor standard, unsuitable for people’s health needs or dietary requirements, lacking nutritional content and culturally insensitive, but are provided just £9.10 per week. Some of the families we support record skipping meals and spending their meagre income on food. On such a small level of subsistence, doing the most basic things, such as travelling to appointments with a lawyer, is almost impossible.
Despite this reality, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick stated this week that in the future refugees would be given the most basic accommodation possible; as the “Illegal Immigration Bill” will prevent asylum claims being heard in the UK, presumably too his vision is for people to live permanently in such squalor. In any case, either Jenrick does not know how substandard current asylum accommodation provision is, or he chose to deliberately misrepresent the truth.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab was next. He repeated the obviously false and entirely misleading claim that hotel accommodation somehow incentivises refugees to seek sanctuary in the UK – when in fact Home Office research confirms that so-called “pull factors” do not influence refugees’ decisions to favour the UK over other countries
Raab and Jenrick, both millionaires, have a misplaced view of hotel accommodation and understand nothing of the realities of living in mouldy, vermin-infested temporary accommodation that share no similarities with the places they might stay on holiday.
In truth, hotel accommodation is already awful, especially as with no income asylum seekers often spend the majority of their time effectively confined to their rooms. One family with 2 children we work with stay in a hotel with bars on the windows, resembling a prison more than somewhere you’d spend a vacation. Many RAMFEL clients stay in one particularly delapidated hotel, with damp, mould-encrusted walls and a mouse infestation. Photos we have viewed of this property are truly shocking, and if both Raab and Jenrick took the time to visit and see the living standards, we think that even they would be shocked.
When complaints are made to hotel staff about living conditions, a hostile response is often received. This includes staff telling people they should not have come to the UK and even that voicing their concerns will harm their asylum claim.
The UK’s asylum system is clearly not functioning as it should, with a backlog of 160,000 claims and more than 10,000 people waiting more than 3 years for a decision. Contrary to the government’s public posture, no one – not asylum seekers, migrants’ rights charities, the Home Office, or the public– wants people stuck in hotels for years on end. The answer though is not to move people to somewhere that may be even worse.
The government’s focus should be on processing asylum claims and granting those recognised as refugees leave to remain. Only once their status is resolved can refugees begin working and actually contributing to society. Considering Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria, amongst others, have approval rates exceeding 98%, it serves no purpose to keep people from such countries stuck in limbo for extended periods when their claims will inevitably be allowed. The existing status quo is not only extremely costly, but also harms integration as it prevents refugees from fully settling into the communities that will become their home.
Another step the government could take is to lift the ban on asylum seekers working. This again is often cited as a ‘pull factor’, but there is once more no evidence to support this. Refugees choose to come to the UK because of existing familial, linguistic and other ties. They often too, despite the government’s best efforts to disprove this, believe the UK to be a country where human rights are respected and a place where they will be able to rebuild their lives.
Processing asylum claims should clearly be the government’s priority if it is serious about reducing the number of people in hotels. Instead, their focus is gimmicky, performative cruelty, which will do nothing to fix the UK’s asylum system, but will without question make vulnerable peoples’ worse.
It has been suggested that the government may see the continued use of hotels as politically beneficial, a sinical ploy to maintain a “problem” they can then “fix” with ever crueller and more draconian measures. Nobody voted for this. This type of performative cruelty is increasingly out of touch with UK voters, whose attitudes towards migration are some of the most accepting in the world. The government should prioritise processing claims so that people can get on with their lives and meaningfully contribute to communities across the country.