21 January 2021: Someone new to Qarn has written to ask: I am new to Qarn and find the wealth of info quite daunting . Please can you tell me more about the new asylum seekers accomodation centre. Where can I find a summary of some of the initiatives etc and current state/numbers of asylum seekers in uk , many thanks.
The following long read may be helpful. I know that others in the QARN group also have information. This is just one aspect of the concerns shared by QARN members – there is a lot to be concerned about and we can’t all do everything, but if we each do what we can maybe we can find a way to change the system.
To answer, it is maybe worth saying that there is a lot of traffic on QARN, but feel free to only pick up the emails that interest you. I don’t keep up with everything myself, and I have been involved since 2007.
I suggest that QARN is the same as other Quaker situations, where you should feel able to let some things pass if they don’t speak to you. There is a lot of history – some of us have been around for a long time, and others are fairly new to it, so feel free to ask questions, and please try not to feel daunted.
To begin to unpick the questions: first I’ll run through how the system works, then explain why this is all suddenly of great concern.
The asylum system is the responsibility of the Government through Priti Patel and the Home Office, but over time they have outsourced much of the immigration work, include asylum support systems, to private companies who compete for contracts by offering a low quote, and they in turn subcontract bits of their work to other organisations. There have always been fairly deep concerns about the standard of accommodation provided. The duty of care lies with the Home Office and the Government whoever is providing the service.
The current situation is that there are three companies who have the contract for providing accommodation since 2019: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-asylum-accommodation-contracts-awarded
The Home Office formally awarded contracts to the following providers:
- North West, Midlands and East of England: Serco
- North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, Northern Ireland, Scotland: Mears Group
- South England, and Wales: Clearsprings Ready Homes
People coming into the asylum system have no choice about where they are placed, and they are sometimes moved all over the country with very little, if any notice. In 2019 the Government introduced a new part to the system, so that if there is a problem with the accommodation instead of going to the housing provider, the person must contact Migrant Help who in turn try to sort it out with the accommodation provider. That brings a whole load of problems in itself.
The pandemic and lockdown has had an impact on the accommodation provision in that new people are arriving seeking asylum all the time (small boats for example – it is perfectly legal to seek asylum, except there is no legal way to actually do it). There is a massive backlog of cases to be sorted by the Home Office which has built up over time, and some people have been waiting for a decision for years. People seeking asylum are given accommodation by one of the three providers above (not the local council) if they have a current case waiting for a resolution.
Generally they use big multi-occupation places for people when they first come – this is ‘initial accommodation’ – and when the asylum seeker has moved further into the system they are sent to ‘dispersed accommodation’ which can often be in multi-occupation houses for 4-5 people to share, which Mears Group, Clearsprings and Serco rent from private landlords.
Rules of the lockdown say that people whose cases have refused by the Home Office (who would usually find themselves destitute on the streets or for an indefinite time in an immigration detention centre), cannot be made homeless and so they stay where they are. People who get a positive decision (so recognised as a refugee/someone who has a strong case for asylum) will even at the moment be given 28 days to leave their accommodation. Where I live in Leicester, these people are likely to then join the ranks of those who are homeless and the Council will offer them temporary accommodation in a hostel or b&b.
What is the current problem at Yarls Wood:
This is the current concern about Home Office plans for accommodating people in pre-fab housing on scrubland at Yarls Wood:
And the rest: Many organisations are concerned about the current situation, and are coming together around petitions and letters offering various remedies, asking people to write to their MPs, asking MPs to sign Early Day Motions, and linking up to pressure for change.
There was already a backlog before the virus struck, and the Home Office was pressuring the three housing providers – Mears Group, Clearsprings and Serco to find more accommodation. What has happened as a result of the virus is that there is a blockage in the system, because people are coming in and others are not leaving the stock of asylum accommodation. A massive backlog has built up.
Mears Group, Clearsprings and Serco still have to find somewhere for these people to live, and they are now using what they call ‘contingency units’ – these are places they use on a temporary basis so that they do not have to keep the contract on when they no longer need it. They considered all sorts such as converting office blocks, and there was talk of using old ferries etc. etc.
In practice, they took over low-grade ‘hotels’ where meals were provided, and the people seeking asylum in these places have no autonomy over their lives. They can come and go, but have very little money. At one time they were given no money at all by Mears Group, and Serco were giving £5 a week to men and £10 to women for toiletries. I heard that recently, people in hotels should be given £10 per week, but this is not always being paid because of glitches in the system. Life in the hotels is pretty grim.
There are people placed in the RAF site at Coltishall in Norfolk https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jan/14/asylum-seeker-housing-conditions-under-scrutiny-third-uk-military-site-raf-coltishall-norfolk-, and towards the end of 2020, they started to use army camps: Napier camp in Folkestone, and Penally camp in Penally, Pembrokeshire. I’m picking up that many of the people sent to these camps have already been placed in the ‘hotels’. There have been many problems with the camp conditions, which are pretty desperate as you can see by reports on this website that I manage on behalf of the campaign StatusNow4All, where I represent QARN: http://statusnow4all.org/ There are a number of reports here: https://statusnow4all.org/concerns-about-the-use-of-army-barracks/
It seems the Home Office is considering opening another camp in the north of England.
In addition: the far right has spend a lot of time mobilising its people to protest and intimidate those seeking asylum who have been left in these awful conditions, videoing them and putting the videos on Youtube etc. They stormed hotels banging on the doors and aggressively asking questions of people who had been placed there, they rattle on the fencing of the camps at night, standing outside with banners, chanting, trying to engage people in conversation etc.
And the virus:
They are being moved from one place of multi-occupation to another with no virus-testing, which will take them away from any GP they may be registered with, and local support systems. Napier camp in Folkestone is currently almost locked down, because 100+ people there have Covid-19. Health and safety does not exist as far as the virus is concerned, in these conditions.
In 2007, there was a big backlog in the asylum system, and the Government decided to offer Indefinite Leave to Remain to many people in what were called ‘legacy cases’, just to clear the way. We’re definitely in a crisis now, and StatusNow4All is campaigning for people who are undocumented, and those in the legal process to be given Indefinite Leave to Remain, so that they can access health and safety like everyone else, without fear of being removed from UK or placed in immigration detention.
There are some useful questions and answers here, from Care4Calais’ website, about the system: https://care4calais.org/the-refugee-crisis/
Government statistics are published here:https://www.gov.uk/entering-staying-uk/border-control#research_and_statistics
I hope this isn’t too much overload.