Families seeking asylum in UK face ‘inhumane’ conditions, says Human Rights Watch

Bibby Stockholm arriving in Falmouth
Support us and go ad-free

On 14 September, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the living conditions of asylum-seeking families in the UK.

The report has raised alarm bells regarding families facing “inhumane” conditions, malnutrition, poor physical and mental health, and a lack of access to children’s education and other basic services.

‘I Felt So Stuck’

The 100-page report is based on research conducted jointly by HRW and Just Fair, a UK-based civil society organisation. They interviewed over 50 asylum seekers, 27 children of whom were children.

The interviewees were either currently living in or had recently left temporary housing for asylum seekers in England. HRW’s website noted:

The 100-page report, “‘I Felt So Stuck’: Inadequate Housing and Social Support for Families Seeking Asylum in the United Kingdom,” found that families seeking asylum face inhumane conditions in temporary housing, including rat infestation and mold. The families experience daily struggles to get food their children will eat, as well as mental and physical health problems and serious disruptions to their children’s education.

Despite a government target to move families into long-term housing within 19 days, many had spent months in temporary accommodation.

Moreover, people placed in hotel accommodation faced cramped living conditions, damp, mould, pest infestations, and broken or missing furniture.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Respondents described a feeling of being caged in due to a lack of space. For example, in one case mentioned in the report:

Miguel E., his wife, and three children… who left El Salvador after they were threatened by criminal gangs and sought asylum in the UK, had lived in a hotel in east London’s Tower Hamlets for eight months when we spoke to them in May 2022. The family of five shares one crowded room with three triple-decker bunk beds and one bathroom. Miguel says it is not an adequate space for a family and definitely not an appropriate space for children, telling us, “Here we feel penned in like we are animals.” His seven-year-old son, Luis, said to him, “Papa, this is like a prison.”

The report added that families don’t have access to cooking facilities. The nutritional needs of children in particular, including infants, weren’t being met. Children also face barriers in accessing education as local schools may not allow them to enrol immediately.

The organisations noted that:

The dire conditions are the result of longstanding policy failings, including an inefficient and under-resourced decision-making system… The government has wasted resources on its effort to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and cut legal aid and other funding. These choices have contributed to a huge backlog of asylum cases.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK director at HRW, said:

Inhumane and inadequate housing for people seeking safety is never acceptable, and certainly not in the world’s sixth-largest economy

She added:

Instead of recklessly wasting resources on grudging, deficient, and short-sighted responses, the UK government should redirect its funding toward suitable long-term housing and social support

Hostile Environment

Current policy regarding asylum in the UK is an extension of the ‘hostile environment’ introduced by former PM and home secretary Theresa May.

More recently, the Conservative government has tried to use barges, disused military bases, and even tents to house asylum-seekers. Earlier in September, the Canary‘s Glen Black reported:

The government briefly caged 39 refugees on the barge [Bibby Stockholm] before evacuating them on 11 August. Tests had revealed the presence of legionella in the water system.

HRW and Just Fair said “barges, barracks, and similar large-scale institutionalised settings share the serious shortcomings of repurposed hotels”, and therefore shouldn’t be used to house asylum-seekers.

They added:

Instead, people seeking asylum should be supported to find their own housing in communities they choose and should be allowed to work as long as their cases are being considered, the approach used in the UK until 1999.

The report itself also stated that:

Instead of resorting to increasingly unsuitable settings for people seeking asylum, many of whom have already faced considerable loss and trauma, the UK government should urgently change its approach and reverse policy decisions that contribute to the dehumanizing, harmful environment that characterizes much of the UK’s initial asylum accommodation.

The Tories have also introduced legislation barring asylum claims by all arrivals via “illegal routes”, and sending them to third countries such as Rwanda. However, both policies are currently on hold amid a court challenge over the legality of deporting asylum seekers to East Africa.

Just Fair director Jessica McQuail said:

Government policy is directly damaging the health and well-being of vulnerable children and their families who have come to the UK seeking safety

McQuail went on to add:

Instead of pitting people seeking asylum against people already living in the UK, the government should use its available resources to ensure that everybody’s rights are met.

Featured image via YouTube/The Telegraph

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us