Reports of suicide and self harm by asylum seekers increased by more than 250 per cent in a four month period, when many were moved from flats to hotels due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The figures were made public by the Home Office, in a report written in response to an incident at the Park Inn Hotel, Glasgow, in which asylum seeker Badreddin Abadlla Adam stabbed six people.
Adam was accommodated at the hotel by Mears Group, which has a £1bn contract with the Home Office. The report, initially leaked to the BBC, revealed he contacted the Home Office, Mears Group and Migrant Help, to ask for help 72 times in “the period leading up to the incident”.
The evaluation report, which was released by freedom of information legislation on 12 April, also looked at the link between the stark rise of serious, and in some cases dangerous, mental health issues and the “temporary nature of the living conditions in hotels” which could create “extreme vulnerability”.
Charities, including the Scottish Refugee Council, said the report showed “lessons had not been learned” and claimed “nothing had changed” for people still housed in asylum hotels, many of whom were facing mental health crises.
The Home Office said its own widespread use of hotels was “unacceptable” and called on local authorities to help them find “more suitable” alternatives.
The evaluation report said that in April 2020 there were 21 reports of suicide and self harm across the UK-wide asylum population, which more than trebled to 75 by July.
“NGOs reported their clients increasingly presenting with depression and the escalation of existing psychological conditions”, the report added. It admitted “they found the temporary nature of the living conditions in hotels in particular combined with existing indicators to create extreme vulnerability for some”.
Refugees for Justice, which is campaigning for an independent inquiry into deaths in the asylum system, including that of Adam, said it was evidence that accommodating people in unsuitable hotels was “dangerous”.
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that some asylum seekers, who do not arrive under refugee resettlement schemes, could be sent to Rwanda where their claims will be processed “off-shore”.
Opposition politicians, lawyers and refugee advocates have said the “inhumane plans”, are a clear breach of international law and vowed to oppose them in the courts.
The policy is being framed as a “deterrent” by the UK Government and is part of its “new immigration plan”.
As part of that plan the Home Office has also rapidly increased its use of “institutional asylum accommodation”, including hotels, across the UK.
In October 2019 there were an estimated 1,500 people housed in hotels, barracks and other “institutional” settings. By June 2020, the number rose to 10,000, according to Scottish Refugee Council’s policy manager Graham O’Neill.
An estimated 220 hotels are currently thought to be being used to house asylum seekers across the UK.
Last November, more than a year after the publication of its evaluation – which it had refused to release until this week – the Home Office started using hotels in Edinburgh, East Kilbride, Falkirk, Perth and Aberdeen. It is also housing people in Glasgow, including families, in the McLay’s Guest House.
Adnan Elbi died in room 50 of the guest house in May 2020. He had also repeatedly requested help and was struggling with his mental health.
Currently about 400 people in the asylum system, including children, are being housed in Scottish hotels. The average stay is three months, but some are there far longer.
Several hundred Afghans have been accommodated in hotels since an evacuation from the nation last September, including three in Edinburgh, while they wait for housing to be found in the community.
Graham O’Neill, Scottish Refugee Council’s policy manager, claimed the Home Office had now admitted that “hotel accommodation has a significant mental health impact on people who are only looking to rebuild their lives in safety”.
He added: “The report’s findings confirm a yawning mental health support gap in Home Office asylum accommodation and its use of hotels for institutional accommodation.
“Refugees often have complex trauma. One goal of the asylum system should be to take the weight off their shoulders, not add to it. The fact that refugees in these places have little control over their life, with £1 a day, without the right to work, harms most and has a devastating impact on some.
“Lessons have patently not been learned here. We simply cannot as a country entrust mental health and safeguarding to the Home Office.”
Fiona Crombie, clinical service manager for Freedom from Torture, confirmed her organisation was supporting torture survivors currently accommodated in hotels, and struggling with their mental health.
She said: “Hotel accommodation is no substitute for permanent accommodation. The impact of instability and uncertainty mixed with untreated PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) are a recipe for a mental health crisis when local services are already over stretched responding to the legacy of the pandemic.”
Dylan Fotoohi, of campaigning organisation Refugees for Justice, said: “There are hundreds of people feeling suicidal in the asylum system on a daily basis and they are invisible. They include survivors of torture who are experiencing de facto detention in hotels and right now this is ongoing with people suffering psychological damage.”
But he claimed that despite some “powerful admissions” in the report, it was largely a “cover-up” which downplayed the Home Office failings.
“It admits failings but does nothing to change practice,” he said. “How can the Home Office investigate itself? It can’t. We need a proper independent inquiry into what went wrong.”
His call was backed by Gillian Wilson, chief executive of charity Community Infosource, who said the “cursory” evaluation highlighted the need for an inquiry.
And she claimed the same problems were ongoing with Mears moving asylum seekers in hotels across Scotland at short notice.
She added: “Asylum seekers are being moved from pillar to post and this creates lots of uncertainty and an impossibility for the asylum seeker to begin to build local networks and integrate in any way in a local community. This leads to high levels of stress and vulnerability.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The use of hotels is unacceptable and we are working hard to find appropriate accommodation for asylum seekers but local authorities must do all they can to help house people permanently.
“Since this horrific incident we have undertaken a number of significant changes to keep asylum seekers safe, including how we, our contractors and charities, spot vulnerable individuals and provide them with wraparound support and appropriate accommodation.
“The Home Office has completed the majority of recommendations in the review which found that hotels in Glasgow were of a good standard, clean and well maintained.
“Our New Plan for Immigration, which is going through Parliament now, will fix the broken asylum system, enabling us to grant protection to those entitled to it and to remove those with no right to be here more quickly.”
Mears Group declined to comment and directed The Ferret to the Home Office.
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