C4C Response to Home Office ICIBI Call for evidence
Summary & recommendations
- In a recent Equality Impact Assessment , the Home Office suggested that putting asylum seekers in lower grade accommodation would help ‘tackle prejudice’ against migrant groups. If tackling anti migrant prejudice is their objective, it would be better achieved by leading by example and treating asylum seekers with dignity and respect.
- A clear strategy for reducing the requirement for contingency asylum accommodation would be to process people’s asylum claims, both by expediting straightforward claims and reducing the historic backlog. In public statements the Home Office have made much of asylum seekers being accommodated ‘at taxpayer expense’; yet asylum seekers did not ask for this. They want to be part of our society and contribute to it. By processing their claims, the Home Office would both enable this and reduce the need for contingency accommodation.
- The Asylum Accommodation and Support Statement of Requirements  sets out training requirements for accommodation provider staff who have regular or face-to-face contact with service users. These include, inter alia: the asylum and asylum support systems; safeguarding; ethnic diversity and cultural awareness; suicide and self-harm awareness and prevention; vicarious trauma; and unconscious bias. It is clear from this report that few of the accommodation provider staff have had this training or, if staff have had any training, it has been wholly ineffective: misleading or no information on asylum claims is common; there is a general lack of awareness of, and adherence to, safeguarding principles; abuse of power is common; and there is no awareness of vicarious trauma. In short, an urgent review is required of whether property management companies are capable of adequately and safely running contracts to accommodate and care for vulnerable people. Writing clauses into a contract is not enough; the Home Office should have appropriate monitoring and evaluation practices in place to ensure that required standards are maintained. We recommend that these contracts are no longer run on a for-profit basis.
- Being an asylum seeker means that, by definition, you have suffered something terrible and, due to uncertain legal status, may be easy to intimidate. Accommodation providers have taken advantage of this fear and the lack of knowledge that asylum seekers have of their rights to overstep the authority that they perceive the Home Office has delegated to them. Asylum seekers have been told that their asylum claims could be at risk if they misbehave or speak out about conditions or mistreatment in their asylum accommodation and bullying and abuse has taken place. There needs to be a process by which asylum seekers can raise concerns about their accommodation, including issues with staff, anonymously and without fear of repercussion. Ideally this would be via an unrelated third party.
- Several hotels have actively stopped volunteers from entering or working in or outside of premises. This acts to deny asylum seekers access to aid and support and is short-sighted. It is our experience that hotels that are open to working with volunteers and have frequent distributions of aid, regular activities with residents and volunteers assisting with asylum seekers’ needs have calmer atmospheres and less tension, which benefits all parties. We strongly recommend that the Home office and accommodation providers work openly and collaboratively with NGOs to achieve the best outcomes for asylum seekers under their care.
- To the people we work with, nothing is more important than their asylum claims. They have risked their lives and survived horrific journeys to get here. Going home could mean death; the outcome of their asylum claim means everything. Due to barriers such as language and literacy they do not understand months of delays and live in constant fear that the waiting forebodes a negative outcome. We have spoken to residents who took part in hunger strikes at three different properties. In all three cases a common thread was anxiety arising from delays and lack of information regarding their asylum claims. While the solution would be to process their claims more promptly, an expedient fix would be to provide more open, accurate and regular information about the progress of their claims, together with reasons for any delays.
- Many asylum seekers suffer from varying forms of mental health conditions and struggle through flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, depression, and PTSD. Mental health is one of the most common concerns reported by our volunteers, with suicide attempts and self-harm being common. Accommodation staff are not trained to deal with these needs and individuals are advised to contact Migrant Help where they are left on hold, call-backs are not made, and reports are not logged. An expert review of this area is urgently needed.
- Throughout the UK, we have recorded incidents where an asylum seeker’s requests to access healthcare have been denied. Ranging from asking to be registered with a GP to needing an ambulance to be called, many of the individuals we support have not been granted access to basic medical care. This has led to people being in discomfort or pain for unnecessarily long periods of time, and deterioration of their health. Accommodation staff do not have the training or motivation to adequately support people. In addition, asylum seekers being housed in large numbers can put increased pressure on local services such as GPs, creating gaps in care.
- It is our repeated experience that asylum seekers are not given clear (or sometimes any) information on transfers in advance of their journeys. The recommended five days’ notice is extremely rare.
- Napier barracks had fallen into disrepair and was not fit for purpose as modern day accommodation, even more so during a global pandemic. The Home office was advised last September that dormitories were not suitable accommodation during a pandemic, however, possibly more disastrous than the failure to follow that advice was the decision on 15 January to let people who had tested positive mix freely with the general population purportedly because the over 400 people onsite were ‘all one house’. This led to an outbreak of around 120 cases. Napier should immediately cease to be used to house asylum seekers.
- Siting over 400 people on an enclosed location, at a distance to local services, exacerbated the issues that are arising at other sites around the country: the lack of training and unsuitability of the managers to run the site became a critical issue; it was harder for volunteers and the community to engage, so that access to aid, activities and support became more pronounced; being placed near to a small community without proper planning or support meant that local services were not able to cope, in particular with health and mental health needs; lack of information and mental health strain on the residents was increased. This led to protests, hunger strikes, suicide attempts and inhumane treatment of those our country is supposed to protect. Asylum accommodation needs to be integrated into the community and planned and set up with local stakeholder involvement.
- Napier and Penally have in effect become refugee camps. If such arrangements are considered in the future, they should be run as such in line with international humanitarian standards such as the Sphere Handbook  by organisations who have the knowledge and skills to do this, such as the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
 Borders Immigration Citizenship Systems Equality Impact Assessment