An asylum seeker who has been living in a hotel for more than six months says it is “worse than prison” because no-one knows when they will finally be given proper accommodation.
Isaias, from Eritrea, spoke out as campaigners called for an end to the “damaging and inhumane use of hotels and other forms of institutional accommodation for asylum seekers across Scotland”.
Falkirk is now understood to house more than 100 asylum seekers, although this has not been officially confirmed.
Isaias was taken to the former hotel in central Falkirk along with 50 other asylum seekers from various countries last November – but massive delays to processing asylum claims mean that there is no end in sight.
He and his fellow asylum seekers are given £8 a week, which means charities have to give them clothes and organise things like hair cuts.
All meals are provided by the hotel and the men have no kitchen facilities.
He said: “We have a bank card but you can’t take £8 out of the bank – you have to wait a week so you can take £10 out then another week until there is another £10.”
While they are not prevented from travelling, it is not just the lack of cash that stops them.
Isaias says they are unable to go anywhere in case they are suddenly called to leave as their claims is processed.
It is this uncertainty that he is finding so frustrating and leads to many asylum seekers suffering depression and anxiety.
“If you go to jail, you know you will be there for one year, two – however many. We don’t know how long we’ll be here. No-one can tell us anything,” he said.
Many of those in the hotel have fled political persecution in Eritrea – widely criticised as being one of the most repressive regimes in the world – but their claims for asylum have still not been heard after months in Belfast and now in Falkirk.
Falkirk Council’s chief executive and council leader both condemned the move when 50 asylum seekers were brought at very short notice to stay in the former hotel.
Six months on, most of the asylum seekers are still there and another 60 are understood to have been put in another hotel outside the town centre.
The Roof Coalition represents over a dozen housing, legal, community and human rights groups and organisations who want to see “safe and dignified housing for people seeking asylum”.
Launching their campaign, Savan Qadir, of Refugees for Justice, said: “ Despite all the evidence of harm, the Home Office and its private contractors continue to practise this inhumane and harmful practice in Scotland without consent from Scottish local authorities.
“We demand the Home Office and their private agent contractors to put an end to hotel detention and start treating asylum seekers and refugees as human beings, accommodating them in safe community-based housing where they belong.
“Despite all the promises from the Mears Group that they have made to reduce the use of hotels, what we see is the total opposite of these promises and Mears group keep putting more and more people in the hotels as we see Mears now putting people in other council areas all around Scotland including Falkirk, Perth, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, East Kilbride and soon other areas. Quite frankly this is not what reducing use of hotels looks like as Mears Group claiming.”
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council said: “We do not believe that hotel accommodation is appropriate for asylum seekers and will continue to work with the Home Office to ensure that they are moved on to more suitable accommodation as quickly as possible.
“However, it must be recognised that there are delays in the system, which are outwith the local authority’s control. We will therefore continue to do our best to ensure that the asylum seekers are safe and well throughout their stay in the area.”
But the Mears Group – the private company looking after asylum seekers for the Home Office – say it is doing “all in its power to end hotel use”.
A spokesperson for the Mears Group said: “Due to the rise in the number of people in the UK asylum system, and the need for the Home Office to secure accommodation for those people just arrived into the UK, Mears is currently providing additional contingency accommodation in hotels in Falkirk as well as Aberdeen, East Kilbride, Edinburgh and Perth. This is in common with the approach across the UK where hotels are currently needed as a contingency.
“Supporting the welfare of service users is of the utmost importance to Mears. We have been working closely and positively with local authorities and with other partners, including health and welfare teams and NGOs to provide support. There are on-site Resident Welfare Managers at hotels to assist with any issues. Service users are provided with their own room, all meals and snacks, access to health and welfare support, and other provision, including social and leisure activities.
“The use of hotels is a contingency measure to meet the current need for suitable accommodation. Mears will continue to do all in its power to end hotel use. To do this we’re working closely with local authorities to source suitable new accommodation and ensure that our service users are found a home in the community.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “No asylum seekers are detained whilst in hotel accommodation where they are provided with three meals a day, all bills are paid for, and a weekly allowance for those destitute.
“The New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system to make it fair but firm, enabling us to offer support to those most in need while returning those without a genuine right to remain in the UK.”