Concern grows about mental health of asylum seekers in Scottish hotels

Concern grows about mental health of asylum seekers in Scottish hotels

Warning: The story contains details of suicide. If you need help or support contact the Samaritans on 116123 or

At least five traumatised asylum seekers living in Scottish hotels while awaiting progress on their refugee claims have attempted suicide in recent months, The Ferret has learned. 

In the latest incident, police were called after a young man who had been living for many months in the Mutha Glasgow River hotel, in Erskine, made an attempt on his own life. The hotel has been the focus of protests by far right groups. 

Scottish Refugee Council also told a Scottish Parliament committee that a “frontline professional” at another hotel had reported four suicide attempts by asylum seekers in recent months.

The “horrifying” incidents have involved asylum seekers at hotels provided by Home Office contractor Mears Group. Charities fear there could be many more incidents that are going unreported.

They are calling on the Home Office to end the use of hotel rooms and “institutional accommodation” urgently, with people instead housed in communities where they can get better support. 

Concern grows about mental health of asylum seekers in Scottish hotels

About 1,400 asylum seekers are currently housed in 16 hotels across Scotland including in Greenock, Aberdeen, Dumfries, Falkirk and East Kilbride. Almost 500 people are sharing bedrooms and many have been in hotels for over a year, some being moved around to different locations several times. They are provided with meals and receive just £8.86 per week.

Previous research revealed that 23 asylum seekers across the UK were suspected or confirmed to have taken their own lives between January 2020 and December 2023.

In December 2023 Albanian asylum seeker Leonard Farruku died in a suspected suicide on the Bibby Stockholm barge, moored off Dorset. The decision to house asylum seekers there has caused controversy, with UK Government ministers accused of “playing Russian Roulette” with people’s lives.

Asylum seekers told The Ferret that fear of far right groups, combined with financial support of less than £9 per week, meant they often felt unable to leave hotels. 

One person in the asylum system said the experience was “like an open prison”, re-traumatising those who had experienced conflict in their own countries, such as Sudan and Syria, or who had been trafficked or tortured in countries like Libya.

As The Ferret has previously reported, the Erskine hotel has been a focus for protests organised by far right organisations including Patriotic Alternative and Homeland, and attended by white supremacists with known links to National Action, a terror group banned by the UK Government. Counter protests have been held by unions and refugee supporters.

Friends of the asylum seeker, who we are calling Omar, said his mental state had been unstable in recent weeks. It was claimed that like others living in the hotel, he was afraid he would not be safe if he left the premises, and felt isolated and depressed.

Currently, Mears is in the process of closing the hotel and moving those remaining there to other accommodation across the country. Omar is understood to have been distressed about the uncertainty of his future.

An asylum seeker previously resident in the hotel, who is a friend of Omar’s, said: “The situation at that hotel was horrible. Every Sunday there were protests outside against us.

“It meant we were afraid to go into the centre – we felt that people hated us. People cannot afford a bus pass so they stay in their rooms. That is one reason that people like Omar are so depressed. They feel trapped.

“Most of the people there are from countries with situations of ongoing war or conflict and some have victims of modern slavery or torture. When people who have experienced bad things like that are in a situation where they are separated from the community, traumatic memories can come back to them.”

He claims asylum seekers in the hotel, as well as locals supporting them, were aware that Omar had been struggling and had been keeping an eye on him. 

Everything in the asylum systems seems geared towards endangering people’s health.

The Ferret spoke to one local – a former mental health worker, who asked to remain anonymous. He called 999 after becoming aware that Omar was threatening to take his own life. Omar was later taken for an assessment in hospital before being released back to the hotel. “Everything in the asylum systems seems geared towards endangering people’s health,“ the local alleged. “It’s a deliberately cruel system.”

On 29 February Scottish Refugee Council told the social justice and social security committee that the charity was aware of an “increase in self-harm”, leading to a “heightened risk of deaths by suicide”.

“We know of one hotel in Scotland where, late last year, there were four suicide attempts,” Graham O’Neill, then-policy manager told the committee. “That was disclosed to us by a frontline professional.”

The Scottish Refugee Council told The Ferret it was “horrified” by the incident in Erskine and is calling for “an immediate end to the use of hotel rooms and other types of institutional accommodation”. 

“Poverty, loneliness, unemployment and isolation are other factors that have a clear impact on mental health,” said Gary Christie, head of policy, communications and communities at the charity. “It’s an approach that not only doesn’t support good mental health, but risks re-traumatising people. Something desperately needs to change.”

Pinar Aksu of Maryhill Integration Network, which has been supporting people in Erskine and other hotels, claimed asylum seekers were “being moved like jigsaw pieces” from hotel to hotel, putting additional strain on their mental health.

“Recently, the person who tried to take their own life indicated feelings of hopelessness, and simply wanting to build a normal life,” she added. “Placing and displacing people across various hotels needs to end. Relevant support and procedures must be followed and implemented,” she added.

Iona Taylor, advocacy and campaigns lead for Positive Action in Housing, another charity which is supporting asylum seekers in hotels, added: “Forced into increasingly isolated living conditions, stripped of the right to work, and threatened with removal to Rwanda, people seeking asylum are being subjected to a system of fear and intimidation.

“This is a chronic failure of Mears and the Home Office to provide a safe and appropriate environment for people who have fled torture, trafficking and persecution. People seeking asylum must have access to person-centred and confidential care. The UK asylum system cannot continue to function as a death trap.”

The UK asylum system cannot continue to function as a death trap.

Iona Taylor, Positive Action in Housing

Paul Sweeney, Labour MSP and chair of the Scottish Parliament’s cross party group on migration, said: “It should be a national scandal that people seeking asylum here in Scotland are being driven to suicide because of the abysmal conditions in accommodation provided by profit-driven Home Office contractors, and the psychological torment inflicted by the cruel administrative failures of the asylum system.

“At the heart of the problem is an asylum system that strips people of any dignity and respect. It is a waste of both human life and public money. The Home Office must stop playing political games with people’s lives.”

A Mears spokesperson said hotel staff received training, including on mental health. They added: “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 to provide advice and support.”

They said Mears worked closely with GPs and NHS asylum teams to support people and made referrals for specialist support where necessary.

A Home Office spokesperson also said it worked in partnership with the NHS and non-governmental organisations “to ensure that people can access the health care and support they need”.

They added: “We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and at every stage in the process – from initial arrival, to any potential relocations – our approach is to ensure that the needs and vulnerabilities of asylum seekers are identified and considered including those related to mental health and trauma.”

In recent months housing charities and professionals have been calling on the Scottish Government to declare a housing emergency due to the lack of accommodation available.

The most recent figures revealed that as of 30 September last year there were 30,000 open homeless applications in Scotland, a record number, and rough sleeping – both for Scottish and refugee populations – was on the rise. 

Main image: Abdullah Durmaz/iStock

1 comment
  1. In Scotland our whole system is in a mess that’s the sad state of affairs. We can barely look after our own homeless. Perhaps we are not best placed to accept refugees then, unless we “screen” them quickly and those that could work are allowed to enter the employment arena. SG needs to get a grip of this

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