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Major new report describes dire problems with housing, health, education and food faced by families seeking asylum in the UK


Human Rights Watch and Just Fair find the current UK asylum system is not fit for purpose

Date of Publication:
14 September 2023

Human Rights Watch and Just Fair today published a major new report which outlines serious shortcomings with housing and social support for families seeking asylum in the UK.

Report coverYou can read the 107-page report online here or download it here.

The report examines the experiences of families and unaccompanied children in contingency hotel accommodation and identifies practices and outcomes that fall far short of international standards and the requirements of UK law.

For the report, Human Rights Watch and Just Fair interviewed 52 asylum seekers, including 27 children, who were either living in or had recently left hotel accommodation provided by the Home Office. Human Rights Watch and Just Fair also spoke with staff and volunteers from 50 NGOs and with staff from local authorities.

The report finds there are increasingly serious deficiencies with the temporary accommodation used for asylum seekers. Some families experienced infestations of rats and other vermin, black mould on walls and ceilings, daily struggles to get food their children will eat, mental and physical health challenges, and serious disruption to children's education.

Such serious shortcomings violate the rights to housing, health, food, education, and social security and impede access to asylum, the report notes.

Plans by the Home Office to reduce the use of hotels will only increase rights violations against asylum seekers across the UK. Human Rights Watch and Just Fair said: "Instead of taking steps to reduce the use of hotels by ensuring that people can be matched quickly with and moved into appropriate longer-term accommodations, and in the face of rising costs and mounting public criticism, the UK government has announced that it will use barges, ferries, disused military bases, and former prisons as initial accommodation for people seeking asylum. The Home Office began to move some people to an airbase in July 2023 despite the known harms of such settings and even though estimates suggested its plan would yield little, if any, savings."

The report does acknowledge, however, that the Home Office has said that it will not place families with children on barges or military bases, meaning that it will continue to rely on hotels to house families for the foreseeable future.

More broadly, the report finds that the current UK asylum system is not fit for purpose, and the new proposed changes and the new Illegal Migration Act risk causing further suffering and violations of people's rights.

Human Rights Watch and Just Fair say that a redesigned asylum system is needed that prioritises people's agency and facilitates their integration into wider UK society. The report also recommends that asylum seekers should be allowed to work.

"Focusing on the long-term inclusion of families and children seeking asylum can be transformative, not only for the individuals seeking to rebuild their lives but also for society and the communities that welcome them. For this to be successful, it is important for integration support to be provided from an early stage. Such support includes immediate access to education and health care, language learning, cultural orientation, social activities in the communities where people receive dispersal accommodation, and employment training, the positive impacts of which have been well documented," the report states.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK director at Human Rights Watch, commented: "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."

Jess McQuail, director of Just Fair, said the Government should use its available resources to ensure that everybody's rights are met.