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Report by Asylum Matters finds institutional accommodation is unsuitable for housing asylum seekers and causes harm


Joint report details experiences of those housed in hotels, hostels and former military barracks

Date of Publication:
05 January 2022

Report by Asylum Matters finds institutional accommodation is unsuitable for housing asylum seekers and causes harm

05 January 2022

A report published last month by the charity Asylum Matters takes a critical look at the Home Office's use of institutional accommodation to house asylum seekers. It finds that accommodation such as hotels, hostels and former army barracks is unsuitable for people seeking refugee protection and causes mental and physical harm.

Report coverThe 16-page report, 'In a place like prison': voices from institutional asylum accommodation, is available here.

The report was produced jointly with Action Foundation, Birmingham Community Hosting, Birmingham Refugee and Asylum Seekers Solidarity (BRASS), Life Seeker's Aid Charity, and Stories of Hope and Home.

The six organisations carried out in-depth interviews with fourteen refugees and asylum seekers who had recent experience of long stays in institutional settings, including hotels, hostels, former military barracks and initial accommodation sites.

"Although individuals' experiences were different, there were a number of common themes which surfaced again and again in the stories they told. This report follows those common themes as people first came into contact with institutional accommodation, and then tried to come to terms with the impact of living in these settings," Asylum Matters said.

Fifteen common themes are examined in the report, including feelings of anxiety, being unwanted and not being free. In particular, those interviewed for the report said they felt that they were being deprived of fundamental liberties.

The report explains: "Perhaps the single most pernicious effect of living in institutional accommodation is the impact on people's sense of autonomy and ability to exercise agency in their own lives. The use of this kind of accommodation has been characterised by restrictions on visitors, monitoring of residents' movements and de facto 'curfews'. While not officially a form of detention, the people we spoke to felt that they were being deprived of fundamental liberties while staying in the accommodation, and that their lives were being regulated."

One person said: "It's like a prison, it's a prison." Another commented: "You just wake up, eat, have lunch, have dinner, sleep, wake up, have breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleep, that's it, there's nothing else apart from that."

Some interviewees said the accommodation negatively affected their mental health, causing them to lose hope and become depressed. Children were also impacted. One parent recounted: "The children continuously live in that place, they get frustrated, they cry for no reason. My son was very upset, let me tell you that, he was very upset and he didn't even know why he was crying….my daughter asked 'Mama. How did we become poor?' This was the question that… they don't understand."

In common with the findings of a number of other organisations, Asylum Matters found that nowhere was the deprivation of liberty felt more keenly than in the former military barracks at Napier in Kent and Penally in Wales.

"You're surrounded with fences around you. And security guards are always watching you. And there are several blocks... And well, it's an army camp. So people are sharing the area with each other. I mean, several people in the dining room and blocks, and you always feel that you are in a place like prison," one asylum seeker housed at a former barracks said.

Many of the interviewees also said they felt unsafe in their accommodation.

The report concludes that people should not be warehoused in institutional sites, and it calls on the Government to commit to housing all asylum seekers safely in local communities.

Despite this, the report notes that the Home Office appears instead to be moving towards further use of institutional sites. Asylum Matters says the Government's direction of travel is deeply concerning.

"With its Nationality and Borders Bill … it is moving at speed towards constructing new types of facilities, which it euphemistically calls 'accommodation centres'. We predict these facilities, if allowed to come into being, risk permanently instituting the concept of large prison-like refugee camps in the UK. They will further substantially blur the line between freedom and detention, and will further isolate, dehumanise and harm people seeking safety," the report notes.