In collaboration with 30+ organisations in north west, we are publishing an open letter to the Home Secretary and Immigration Minister expressing grave concerns about their plans to further overcrowd asylum hotels in what they are calling "hotels optimisation" plans. Read the letter below:
To Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick
We are writing to express our grave concern at your ‘hotel optimisation’ plans, which will increase still further the numbers of people living in asylum contingency hotels. We urge you to drop these plans, alongside plans to put people in camps and barges. Instead, you must end hotel use, by addressing your failures to make timely decisions on asylum applications.
Asylum hotels: Like prison
As third-sector organisations working with the thousands of people confined within asylum hotels across the North West, we have spent recent years addressing the myriad human costs of your cruel and ill thought-through hotels ‘policy’. People tell us that living in a hotel feels like prison, where they are dehumanised and treated as a population to be confined and surveilled. They tell us of inedible food, of abusive staff, of cramped rooms, of decay and disrepair. They tell us of social isolation, of exposure to harassment and racist abuse. They tell us of plummeting physical and mental health. People who, having fled war and persecution, desperately want to settle in our communities, provide for themselves, work, rebuild their lives and contribute to British society, are being stripped of their dignity and autonomy, left in indefinite limbo. As you are aware, the vast majority of the people you are currently confining in hotels will go on to be recognised as refugees, work, and pay taxes. Your hotels policy is achieving nothing other than ripping months and years out of people’s lives: it is not in the public interest.
‘Hotel optimisation’: Making a dire situation even worse
What you are calling ‘hotel optimisation’ will make an already dire situation even worse.
Contrary to your public messaging, people are already sharing rooms with strangers. Many hotels lack any communal space. No one should have to live in such indignity. For people who have experienced detention and torture, this lack of privacy is retraumatising. Rolling out room sharing still further, especially where it involves cramming more people into the one room, will only make this worse.
Increasing hotel numbers will pile yet more pressure on local services, and you are offering no extra funding for local authorities who are already overstretched in firefighting the chaos you have created.
We have seen scores of cases of children wrongly age-assessed as adults being placed in contingency hotels, with obvious safeguarding risks. These risks will be compounded further by increasing room sharing.
Further overcrowding exacerbates the risk of the spread of communicable disease among hotel residents, and poses risks in terms of fire safety.
Hotel ‘optimisation’: A choice, not a necessity
Like your other plans to warehouse people in camps and barges, this is a policy choice, not a necessity. The acute shortage of asylum accommodation is not, as you make out, the fault of people fleeing war and persecution: it is a crisis of your own making, as you have allowed the backlog of undecided asylum claims to balloon. Recent months have seen initiatives to expedite decision-making through the use of streamlining questionnaires. These initiatives have been rolled out with no consultation with key stakeholders, in a legal aid environment where shortages mean most people have no representation, leaving people at risk. Despite the high levels of engagement with questionnaires, decision-making remains stalled, and those outside of the nationalities eligible are forgotten. The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit – the largest not-for-profit provider of immigration advice in the North West – has only seen a handful of decisions. The data speaks for itself: decisions are not being made at a high enough rate to decrease the growing backlog. And while waiting people are packed like sardines in unsafe, unsanitary and undignified conditions.
Instead, we call on you to:
Expedite asylum decision making to clear the backlog so that people can be recognised as refugees in a timely manner. If you are truly concerned about the cost to the taxpayer, give people status so they can rebuild their lives as members of our society, work and pay taxes – rather than confining them in hotels while pouring billions of pounds of public money into unaccountable private providers.
While decisions are pending, house people seeking sanctuary in safe, dignified conditions by ending hotel use. Long-term institutional accommodation for people seeking asylum is a recent phenomenon, and it must not become the new normal. People deserve to be accommodated in communities, not in hotels, camps, barges or barracks. Local government must be properly resourced to provide care and support, rather than handing taxpayer money into the likes of Serco to surveil and confine.
Drop the racist, inflammatory rhetoric that blames people seeking sanctuary for the myriad problems your government has created. The gaslighting has gone on too long: it’s time for you to come clean with the public, and show a bit of common decency by taking ownership of failures that go to the very top of this government.
Denise McDowell, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
Aslı Tatlıadım, Head Of Campaigns, Refugee Action
Liz Hibberd, Strategic and Partnership Lead, Manchester City of Sanctuary
Joseph Kiwango, Manager, Revive
Belay Kahsay, CEO, Manchester Refugee Support Network
Mick Taylor, Project Coordinator, Support for Wigan Arrivals Project (SWAP)
Julia Savage, North West Campaigns Manager, Asylum Matters
Kate Wilkinson, Co-Manager Funding and Strategy, Rainbow Haven
Ben Gilchrist, Chief Executive Officer, Caritas Shrewsbury
Chris Moore, Secretary, on behalf of the Members and Committee, Greater Manchester Tenants Union
Jason Tetley, Director, Greater Manchester Law Centre
Vicky Marsh, Assistant Director, Safety4Sisters
Women Asylum Seekers Together, The Management, WAST
Mike Wild, Chief Executive, Macc
Ewan Roberts, Centre Manager, Asylum Link Merseyside
Rashidah Owoseni, People Support Manager, Growing Together Levenshulme
Shannon Smith, Project Coordinator, Rethink Rebuild Society
Veronica Susedkova, Development Lead, Middleton Co-operating
Adrienne Gill, Carlisle Refugee Action Group and Carlisle City of Sanctuary
Janine Adams, Lead Youth and Community Worker, Furness Multicultural Community Forum
Sarah Wilson, Director, Penrith and Eden Refugee Network
Alan Alexander, Chair, West Cumbria Refugee Support Network
Gisela Renolds, Executive Director, Global Link
Keith Carman, Coordinator, RAIS Lancaster
Phil Howell, Main Leader, Hope Café Asylum and Refugee Drop in, Crewe
Comfort Etim, Director, Refugee Women Connect
Margaret Roche, Manager, SHARe Knowsley
Adele Spiers, Managing Director/ Senior Art Psychotherapist, SOLA Arts
Uzma Ansari, Head of Service, The Pankhurst Trust
Jean O’Neill, Chair, Lancaster & Morecambe City of Sanctuary
Barney Howard, Director of Community Partnerships, Hope Central