Afran opens a drawer and pulls out creams and tablets, prescribed to deal with the bites covering his children’s backs and stomachs – and his wife’s legs – in an angry, red rash.
This Kurdish Iraqi family – who fled their home country after death threats – had never had a condition like this until they moved into this flat, provided by Home Office asylum accommodation provider, Mears.
But campaigners claim the condition of the flat, which the family say is damp, dirty and unfit for purpose, is not a one-off incident. They claim standards of accommodation are “unacceptable” and are calling on the Home Office to listen and take action.
Afran, who fled Iraq with his wife and four children – aged 19 months, 7, 9 and 11 – arrived in Scotland in February. The family were initially accommodated in an overcrowded room at Glasgow’s McLay’s Guest House for almost three months.
But on 6 May they were moved to a flat in the city’s east end and since then have suffered repeated break-outs of the bites – which, they say, are distressing, painful and itchy – keeping them awake at night.
Afran believes they are being caused by several insect infestations in the flat, including mites. One video provided to The Ferret shows multiple slugs, which he says are regularly found in the kitchen of the second floor tenement.
He claims the flat was filthy and not cleaned before the family moved in. He says it needs repairs and has lodged complaints with Mears, the outsourcing company contracted by the Home Office.
But Mears, which provides the flat as part of a contract worth £1.1bn, says pest control treated the flat on 20 May, after failing to gain access twice. The firm claims it provided new bedding and has completed all the repairs it is contractually obliged to maked – and closed the complaints.
Afran last week shared his experience with the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Migration and is calling for Mears to re-open his complaint and provide safe and habitable accommodation.
In Iraq he was a civil engineer living in Erbil. But his work led him to a perilous situation which led to death threats. The Ferret has agreed not to give details to ensure his safety.
“We had a lovely life in my country – a job, house, holidays,” he says, speaking through an interpreter. “We lost everything that we had. But the only option we had was to leave the country.
“So I am grateful to be given protection here. I am happy to be offered help by the government. But this is not acceptable. My one-year-old is not safe in this flat.”
Since moving in, Afran and his wife have cleaned most of the rooms. But he says the couch was too dirty, and has asked for it to be removed. In his living room he carefully pulls aside leatherette cushions to reveal the previous resident stuffed large volumes of sweet wrappers down the back and sides, along with crayons, hair bobbles, dust and detritus.
The carpets are worn and dirty. Mears told The Ferret it had provided a vacuum cleaner but the family say this was only delivered on Wednesday 8 June, over a month after the family had moved in.
A black rubber window seal in this room has come away, meaning the window doesn’t close properly and is allegedly causing damp. Many doors do not shut, which he says means his active toddler has to be watched constantly. Several of the carpets are loose at the corners, revealing layers of filthy lino beneath.
Notes from an ambulance crew who visited after the family’s youngest child took ill detail that the flat is “no [sic] for purpose”. Mears claims these notes are what the service users said to paramedics.
Afran insists he is only looking to protect his family’s wellbeing. “I am not a tourist,” he says. “I am not looking for luxury. But the health and safety of my children is what matters. I want to have my rights taken seriously like any human being.
“Scotland opened its arms to me when I needed help but this flat makes me feel like I don’t belong in this country.”
He is now being assisted by his SNP MP David Linden. “During my five years in office, I’ve seen some fairly awful examples of people being left in unacceptable housing while they wait endlessly for a decision to be made on their claim,” he said. “Yet I’m still shocked even now by what this family has been living through.
“The continued outsourcing of asylum housing to the private sector is leading to vulnerable people being expected to live in dangerous conditions by an uncaring and callous Home Secretary.”
He claimed Glasgow City Council had “consistently sought to engage with the Home Office over the last five years to take asylum housing out of the hands of private companies in the city”. He added: “It is time for Priti Patel to listen and act.”
Pinar Aksu, human rights and advocacy coordinator for Maryhill Integration Network, who has also been supporting the family, agreed it was far from an isolated incident.
She added: “Once people are finally moved out of hotels we usually hear complaints about the housing they are given and we are saddened to see this.
“The majority of the time people don’t know their rights, or they are afraid that speaking out could damage their case, so they stay silent. I am glad that this family is speaking out but I can see it is putting stress on them all.
“Mears should re-open the complaint and make sure that they have adequate housing. A shortage should not be an excuse – these are issues that can be sorted.”
A spokesman for Mears said the property in Easterhouse had “been assessed as meeting contractual standards and it was checked and cleaned prior to move in”. In response to complaints he said Mears “agreed to undertake minor works where appropriate, such as fitting a new bathroom door lock and fixing a loose bath panel”.
Housing officers visited on 10 May after the family complained “alleging an infestation at the property”, they said. “Mears visited again to make checks and stayed at the property, supported by a translator, for two hours, to discuss the service users’ concerns.
“Although no evidence of an infestation was found, to reassure the service users we arranged for pest control to visit and they sprayed all areas of the property.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are dealing with unprecedented pressures on the asylum system, but despite this we continue to ensure the accommodation provided is safe, comfortable and secure.”
They claimed there was a “robust complaints process in place” and said people supported by the Home Office or those representing them should raise concerns through Migrant Help. Financial penalties could be imposed if appropriate, they added.
Image thanks to iStock/Richard Johnson.