What Happens To Asylum Seekers in Hammersmith & Fulham

Home Office reported to be housing them in five hotels in the borough

West London Welcome supporters
West London Welcome supporters - Lord Alf Dubs (second from left) actor Juliet Stevenson (third left) and Joanne MacInnes (right)

Reports of asylum seekers’ perilous attempts to cross the Channel have filled the news agenda this year, but relatively little is reported of what happens after they arrive.

In London, charity workers dedicated to helping asylum seekers have told of how thousands of men, women and children are being put in budget hotels, dotted around the capital, for months on end.

The most recent Home Office statistics show there were 56,476 people with pending asylum applications by June 2020, up from 43,833 people at the same time last year.

In the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham there are said to be five hotels that have been taken over by the Home Office.

One charity, Care4Calais, which operates in England and France, is helping asylum seekers in 40 hotels in cities across the UK, including 20 in London. They are often three-stars, though some are well-known chains, and can range from 200 rooms to small B&Bs.

Joanne MacInnes, the co-founder of another charity, West London Welcome, explained that the Home Office has quietly been filling hotels due to problems brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, “People in the hotels have arrived in the country either just before the pandemic or during it. They don’t know when they’re going to be moved, they’re just being held.

“They have nothing because the people traffickers will make them abandon luggage and clothes so that they’re easier to transport.”

She added, “[The reason the hotels are being used] is because the Home Office had a shortage of places they usually use for accommodation because of the [temporary] ban on evictions.

“During the pandemic they weren’t allowed to intentionally make anyone homeless, that’s when they had the idea of using hotels.”

Ms MacInnes was one of several charity workers who said people’s living conditions in the hotels could be cramped, and that poor quality food was provided.

She said, “We had a client in a hotel who was put in a room with seven strangers all in one bedroom in a hotel in Shepherd’s Bush. Eight people in a room, all strangers.

“One of the biggest complaints we receive is about the food, some photos I’ve seen are really shocking. The food is brought in plastic takeaway containers and a lot of it has been curry, which isn’t good for everyone like small children.”

The Home Office revealed in a response to a Freedom of Information request that it contracts a company called Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd to provide food in the hotels.

We showed these photos to the company and offered it the chance to comment, but it declined.

A Home Office spokesperson said, “All contingency [hotel] accommodation meets all of the current public health guidelines and our standards.

“We do not recognise these claims. Three meals a day are provided, and the nutritional content is in line with NHS Eatwell guidelines.

“The Home Office communicates daily with accommodation providers around performance, delivery, and the welfare of our service users.”

Hannah Marwood, a Care4Calais volunteer, regularly visits a hotel in Fulham to deliver donations of clothes, and helps link people with solicitors who assist with asylum claims.

Hannah Marwood is a volunteer for Care4Calais
Hannah Marwood is a volunteer for Care4Calais. Picture: Reach Plc/Grahame Larter

“The food causes quite an issue. It’s often not good quality, not much fruit and veg, so often we’re taking fresh fruit to them. The biggest effect this has is on their mental health. Some people have diabetes or gluten intolerances. But they are scared to complain,” said Ms Marwood, 28, who until recently worked in the travel industry.

She continued: “First and foremost [I visit] to be a friendly face and chat to them.

“They don’t have anything but the clothes they arrive in from their journey, which are not suitable for UK weather.

“Most of them don’t have a way of contacting their family or even knowing if they’re alive.

“In the hotels there’s mental health struggles. They have no routine, they’re just waiting. Without phones some don’t even have a way of knowing what the time is.”

Ms Marwood told of an Iraqi woman whose bravery she admires. “I worked with a heavily pregnant woman who is due to give birth at the end of the year. She’s an incredibly brave lady… From what I gather she was pregnant out of wedlock and her life was in danger. Her family don’t know where she is.”

There is also a catch22 for many asylum seekers. Those who receive food and toiletries funded by the Home Office do not receive any form of financial support, despite arriving in England with little to no possessions. Whereas those who do not receive food and toiletries are given a “subsistence allowance” of £37.75 a week.

Asylum Seekers whose applications are successful are granted refugee status. After one month, a refugee will stop receiving accommodation and subsistence and can begin claiming Universal Credit.

Asylum Seekers are allowed to leave the hotels but this small amount of money limits their ability to travel.

Ms MacInnes also explained that locations of the hotels are being kept secret because of concerns that far-right activists will try to break into the hotels and intimidate asylum seekers.

Maddie London, a second-year Cambridge University student who comes from Hammersmith, has been volunteering at another hotel in Fulham.

Earlier in the month, she told us: “There are 150 people in the hotel… some of the stuff going on there is not great, they are not being treated well.

“When I was there earlier on, there were all these kids coming up to me, they were saying they wanted to go to school.”

She had been struck by the story of a family from El Salvador who flew to the UK from Colombia in January.

“This is the third hotel they have been in,” he said. “They are waiting for their case to be decided.

“I have been with them for a month and have been tutoring their daughter. I helped them apply for a primary school for her.

“[They] came here to escape the general hostility and the gangs situation. They were living above the poverty line. The dad was a trained accountant who was working in a restaurant. They experienced a lot of violence.”

A Hammersmith and Fulham Council spokesperson said it has a “strong commitment to refugees and asylum seekers” and is using its powers to help people.

They said the council is “seeking assurances” from the Home Office that people are “receiving the help they need”.

There have been claims from charity volunteers that the Home Office has at times failed to inform councils when it is placing asylum seekers in local hotels.

The Home Office said: “We have worked tirelessly with local authorities and other partners to provide asylum seekers, who would otherwise be destitute, with suitable accommodation – as we are required to do by law.”

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

October 29, 2020