Asylum seekers housed by the Home Office in a Greenock hotel for months – and who are now spending their second Christmas without having their claim for sanctuary considered – say they have been “abandoned by the system”, with some reporting feeling suicidal.
The majority of the men – who say they fled conflict and persecution from countries including Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran and Yemen – have been “stuck in limbo” for over a year in otherwise unused hotels provided by Home Office contractor Mears Group.
Most of the men claim they are still waiting for interviews with the Home Office that would kick start their asylum claims so are not entitled to work. They receive just £8 a week.
They told The Ferret they have become increasingly desperate with some contemplating self-harm and feeling suicide. Advocates said the UK Government must act to address the “disgraceful” backlog of claims to avoid the risk that lives could be lost.
Previous investigations by The Ferret have revealed an escalating number of deaths in the asylum system since 2020.
The Ferret has received paperwork to verify the claims of two of the men, but did not provide their names to the Home Office as they fear reprisals. The Home Office said evidence had not been provided to back-up the claims.
Asylum applications rising
It is estimated 40,000 asylum seekers are now accommodated in budget or rundown hotels across the UK due to the increasing numbers arriving to make claims. The UK Government says this accommodation will cost over £2bn next year.
In England concerns have been repeatedly raised about the use of military barracks and camps. Earlier this week home secretary Suella Braverman said asylum seekers could be housed on disused cruise ships, former student halls and surplus army accommodation.
Mears said it had no plans to use barracks in Scotland but could not rule out the possibility.
Opposition politicians claim the Home Office must “get a grip” on delays in the asylum system. Meanwhile Braverman said it was planning mass deportations to Rwanda “at scale and as soon as possible” after the High Court found its policy to be lawful this week.
Data obtained under freedom of information legislation by the Refugee Council last month highlights the extent of the backlog with over 120,000 people now waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim.
Many of the 54 men currently housed in Greenock were previously in hotels in other parts of Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Most chose to leave their home countries without their families because the journeys by land and sea are dangerous, and hope to apply for family reunion when they are granted refugee status. Some say they have now been apart from their young children for months and even years.
The Ferret spoke to one 36-year-old from Sudan who spent last Christmas in a hotel in Belfast before being moved in 2022 to hotels in Perth, Falkirk and then Greenock. He said he was reaching breaking point.
“We came here because we wanted to be in a safe country, somewhere that respects human rights,” he said. “That’s what we were looking for.
“But we have been staying in this hotel for many months with no news and no interview from the Home Office. I want to be able to work, to have my family join me, to pay my way and my taxes, but I am not allowed.
“I am depressed. I don’t even want to leave my room. I don’t really want to talk to anyone. I think about suicide,” he said. “It’s such a difficult situation and no-one is listening to us.”
We spoke to another 28-year-old from Sierra Leone, who arrived in November 2021 and spent last Christmas living in a Leeds hotel before being moved to others in Perth and Falkirk. He has been in Greenock for more than six months.
“We feel that we have been abandoned,” he said. “There is no news from the Home Office and no-one to call. All of us want to find a way to access life – to find security and a home.”
He claimed the atmosphere in the hotel was very difficult. “I am volunteering at the food bank and that keeps me sane,” he added. “But I have been through difficult periods where I’ve been contemplating taking my own life.”
Specialist mental health support helped, he says. But he admits this week’s news on the Rwandan deportation plans is worrying. “There is a feeling for us that we are in danger,” he added.
Campaigner Pinar Aksu, advocacy coordinator for Glasgow’s Maryhill Integration Network, who visited the men last week, said: “These men feel abandoned and desperate without any news about their interviews. They are feeling isolated and are disconnected from communities.”
She called for local authorities and the Scottish Government to work towards re-establishing accommodation in the community, where people can more readily access support, services and friendship. Better access to education, volunteering opportunities, befriending and free bus travel would all help, she said.
Asylum seekers in Scotland
The Ferret now understands that a number of local authorities, including Inverclyde, Aberdeen and North Lanarkshire councils, have signed contracts with the Home Office that could see more asylum seekers housed there.
Graham O’Neill, policy manager at Scottish Refugee Council, said asylum seekers were now spending months and years in a “detention-like existence” in hotels while surviving on £1 per day.
He described the situation as “state-sponsored cruelty” allowing “massive commercial and profit benefits of private companies”.
“Those stuck in the Greenock hotel just want safety and a decision on asylum so they can move on in their lives,” he said. “Instead, they are entrapped in an interminable backlog, suffocating their hopes for the future with loved ones and a new life.
“For some it may be just unbearable and there is a risk of loss of life.”
Stuart McDonald MP, SNP’s immigration spokesperson, claimed the backlog was “an absolute disgrace”. He too warned of potential tragedy, remembering the events at Glasgow’s Park Inn Hotel in June 2020 when an asylum seeker, who had been struggling with his mental health, stabbed three others and was shot dead by police.
“The Home Office must stop focussing its efforts on institutional accommodation such as disused military barracks and repurposed hotels, and instead get back to placing asylum seekers appropriately in communities,” he added. “Otherwise, people will continue to lose hope and further tragedy will not be far away.”
Inverclyde Council said it was not responsible for asylum applications or accommodation but provided “appropriate support to those at the hotel”.
A Mears spokesperson said there was an “acute shortage of accommodation for asylum seekers”.
“The safety and welfare of our service users is of the utmost importance to Mears and we have in place a team of Welfare Support Officers who are on site at hotels daily,” they added. “We also work closely with the NHS, who provide healthcare, including where any mental health issues are identified.
“We hope that agreements between the Home Office and Scottish local authorities on wider dispersal, will mean more accommodation becomes available.”
A Home Office spokesperson said:“The Ferret has not provided us with any evidence to show that asylum seekers are waiting for substantive interviews for an extended period of time.
“The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and is putting our asylum system under incredible strain.
“The use of hotels is a temporary solution to the global migration crisis and we are working hard to reduce the amount of time people need to stay in costly hotels in Scotland and across the UK, as well as find appropriate dispersed accommodation for asylum seekers.”
Image thanks to iStock/tampatra
This Ferret story was also published in the Herald. Our partnerships with mainstream media help reach new audiences and become more sustainable as a media co-op. Join us to read all our stories and tell us what we should investigate next.