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Use of hotels as long-term asylum accommodation damages health and wellbeing, new report finds


Helen Bamber Foundation and Asylum Aid detail the 'suffering and squalor' that asylum seekers face when forced to live in hotels for months and even years

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A new report published last week by the Helen Bamber Foundation (HBF) and Asylum Aid describes how living in hotels has a significantly negative impact on asylum seekers' mental health and overall quality of life.

Report coverThe 21-page report, Suffering and squalor: the impact on mental health of living in hotel asylum accommodation, can be downloaded here.

As the report explains, hundreds of hotels  in the UK remain in use as contingency' asylum accommodation despite the Conservative government pledging to end their use. In March 2024, over 30,000 asylum seekers were living in contingency accommodation.

HBF and Asylum Aid noted: "When the use of hotels was originally introduced, they were meant to be a temporary 'contingency' measure. However, hotel accommodation has now almost become the norm, with many people now spending a very long time housed in full-board hotels. In some cases, people have lived for years in these hotels."

The report outlines the serious damage to health and wellbeing caused by long-term hotel accommodation.

A research study by HBF analysed clinical data from 110 participants and found asylum seekers living in hotels had higher levels of mental health difficulties compared to those living in alternative housing. The study also obtained qualitative data from 16 asylum seekers who had lived on average in a hotel for around 18 months.

HBF and Asylum Aid stated: "Interview participants most commonly reported mental health difficulties included depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, trauma, and sleep difficulties. This qualitative data echoed the quantitative findings, which demonstrated higher levels of depression for asylum seekers living in hotels compared to asylum seekers living in alternative housing. Participants described how hotel accommodation worsened pre-existing mental health problems (most commonly Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression) and created new mental health difficulties (most commonly suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety). Participants also spoke about difficulties they faced in the hotel, such as difficulty sleeping due to sharing rooms with noisy roommates, and the negative impact this had on their already fragile mental health."

"The key themes drawn out by this study include people in asylum hotels feeling a lack of safety (associated with a lack of privacy, re-traumatisation, impact on mental health), a lack of autonomy (associated with unmet basic needs, the feeling of being imprisoned, a lack of control, and the harm this causes children and family) and social isolation (associated with feeling disconnected from community and peers, and issues with hotel staff)."

HBF and Asylum Aid's clients reported poor conditions within hotels, with dirty, unhygienic and dilapidated living conditions, overcrowding and a lack of privacy. "It was not clean, safe or good. Was the worst moments of my life there," one asylum seeker said.

Sharing rooms with strangers, sometimes with many people in the same room, exacerbates mental health difficulties, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. One HBF client slept on an armchair in the corridor every night as he felt safer there than in a room shared with a stranger.

The report also highlights the many inadequacies in the provision of food in asylum hotels. People housed in a full-board hotel cannot cook in the facilities that exist, and so are wholly dependent on the food provided. The majority of HBF and Asylum Aid's clients housed in hotels reported that the food is very problematic. There is very little choice and the meals provided are often unhealthy and lack nutrition, with a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables.

On person commented: "The food was badly prepared. He had stomach aches from it. Everyone threw food away and did not like it."

HBF says it has seen reports from local GPs concerned about children losing weight or not growing as expected and recommending healthier diets, and letters from specialist doctors concerned about weight loss and the effect that unhealthy eating is having on their patients suffering from different diseases.

In concluding, the report says: "The Home Office has been wasting millions on a housing policy that is cruel, unsafe and degrading. Thousands of people, including children, are housed in hotels across the country in unacceptable conditions, for very long periods of time, with a serious impact on their health, wellbeing, education and quality of life. This situation is not pre-determined and has instead been a political choice. It should not be this way."