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Everyone needs their home to provide safety, stability, and community – especially those who have had to leave their home and start again. The communities we call home give us our sense of safety and belonging.

Most refugees will have experienced a great deal of displacement and poor treatment before arriving in the UK, making this feeling of safety even more important.

In addition, people seeking asylum all have a unique set of experiences, needs, and wishes. Their housing should be able to accommodate these. If it can’t do that, it will always be inadequate.

The accommodation principles outlined below were developed during a time of crisis in the asylum accommodation system. Since then, the quality of housing people live in while waiting for a response to their asylum claim has worsened. The crisis has deepened.

Since 2020 Refugee Action has witnessed an exponential increase in cases of desperately inadequate and unsafe housing. Ceilings were collapsing on babies, rat infestations were commonplace and never getting fixed, leaks and chronic damp were leaving accommodation unliveable. This is both horrifying and completely unacceptable.

Rather than improving conditions for people seeking safety, the Government decided to move people away from our communities and into institutional accommodation in isolated areas.

Institutional asylum accommodation, such as Napier Barracks, aims to keep people out of sight and out of mind instead of safe and settled. This will never be appropriate. People seeking asylum are not boxes that need to be packed into a warehouse. They are human beings who need to live within our communities, to be safe, healthy and start their lives again.

So, we know what we don’t want to see. We see examples of it every day. But what do we want to see in asylum accommodation? What should a home have?

Principles of Asylum Accommodation

Refugee Action wrote the following principles to establish what accommodation should look like for people seeking safety. It is what anyone would expect from their home. With input from organisations across the asylum and modern slavery sector, these principles should be seen as relevant to any form of asylum accommodation and as basic minimum standards.

Many of the rights outlined below are not new – they already exist for people living in other forms of accommodation, like private or social renters or homeowners, or those living in supported accommodation. This should be expected for people seeking asylum system too.

 1. Are people able to stay safe?

People need a home that keeps them safe from physical and mental harm. People should live in spaces that enable them to take reasonable precautions to keep themselves healthy – like having enough space to isolate from others when ill, being able to stay warm and look after their mental health. The longer a person is expected to remain in asylum accommodation, the more space and facilities are needed for it to be considered adequate.

This means:

  • Housing that is free from hazards, in a reasonable state of repair and hygiene.
  • Reasonably modern facilities for cooking, bathing and heating, and access to the equipment to make use of them (such as cooking equipment).
  • Access to nutritious food and drink.
  • Protection from violence and abuse from staff, neighbours and others. In a discrete location to further limit access of traffickers and abusers to vulnerable people.
  • Treated with respect and care by staff if in a supported accommodation setting.
  • Having enough space for all those living there to stay in good health (i.e. not overcrowded).
  • Feeling safe also means being protected from discrimination including racism, xenophobia, and discrimination on the grounds of religious identity, and from situations that violate your dignity.

If problems do emerge, they need to be taken seriously and responded to quickly before they get worse or put people in danger.

Housing should never retraumatise individuals, it should allow healing. This means recognising specific support needs of victims/survivors of modern slavery, and the differing needs of families, specifically women and children. At times this will require gender specific or contained accommodation.

2. Do people have privacy?

People need to be able to control access to their home, person and belongings:

  • People should be able to lock their front door, and to access their home 24 hours a day.
  • If they live in a shared house, they should be able to lock their room, and keep their belongings in a locked space only they have access to.
  • Everyone needs access to private spaces where they can be alone, or control who comes in. Without this, it is impossible for people to relax and feel safe.
  • People need to be able to invite friends and family into their home, as long as this does not compromise the safety of those they live with.
  • Some people might require self-contained accommodation, if living with others will be too difficult due to past trauma, being a torture survivor or mental health problems.

Accommodation providers or maintenance workers should not be able to come into someone’s home, or their room, without express, specific permission or at least 24 hours’ notice.

3. Are people able to connect with loved ones, support services, legal advice and the wider community?

Human connection is a vital part of life. The ability to sustain connections with others is as essential for survival as physical safety. Such connections are hugely important for people’s mental health and wellbeing. Not having access to the right information about your asylum case or about public health guidelines can have serious impacts on people’s lives.

However people are housed, they must be able to connect and communicate with others. That means:

  • Having space in their home for partners, friends, and family to visit. This includes being able to host people for overnight stays (or go for overnight stays themselves). This must not compromise the safety of others they live with.
  • If they have child contact or shared responsibility for a child, then they need to have space for their children to spend time in their home.
  • Having sufficient access to public transport so they can visit friends and family.
  • Being based within communities where they have opportunities to build new connections and maintain existing ones.
  • Access local amenities (such as libraries and English classes), support services (such as refugee charities, counselling, rape crisis, HIV and LGBTQ+ support services), and legal advice. They should be able to access such services independently.
  • Access to phones, internet connections, phone signal and credit, and the ability to charge electronic devices.

The system for supporting people seeking asylum should be joined up with other advice and support so that people are never at risk of falling through the cracks.

4. Does the accommodation reflect (and respond to) people’s needs?

A person’s home is a fundamental part of their life and identity. Where people have specific needs, their housing should flex to meet these. This means that:

  • Disabled people should have accommodation altered so that they can access, use and move around it freely.
  • People seeking asylum should be asked about their specific needs when moving in. They should always be consulted about specific plans concerning their own home.
  • In catered accommodation dietary requests should be catered for so far as possible and religious, ethical or clinical dietary needs should always be met.

If people complain about standards that are not being met – for example, if someone with mobility issues is housed on a third floor with no lift – that complaint should be believed and addressed. Their problems should be listened to and resolved quickly.

5. Do people have autonomy and independence?

People need autonomy, agency and control over their lives and their homes.

They should be able to make basic decisions about how they spend their time and what their home looks like (in line with the rights of private tenants).

They should be able to decide when and what they eat, when they sleep, use the toilet and wash themselves, when they come and go, who they speak to and when.

People should have some control over roughly where they live and who with:

  • When allocating housing, people should be able to request living in particular areas based on social and support connections, links to services that can’t be accessed elsewhere and a desire to be housed with familiar people rather than strangers.
  • People should be told where they are moving to, so they can express any concerns beforehand.

If someone asks to move, the request should be listened to carefully – providers should trust people to know when a living situation does not meet their needs.

If someone is required to move by a housing provider, there should be a good reason for this, and the person seeking asylum should be treated as an equal participant in the process. This means being given information about the move in advance and an adequate notice period.

There will always be tensions here, particularly when accommodation is being provided on a large scale. But every loss of autonomy for people seeking asylum comes with serious impacts on their lives and should be taken seriously.

6. Do people have stability?

People need a sense of security and consistency in their lives to feel able to put down roots and grow. A stable home is fundamental for this. This means:

  • People should not be moved against their will unless absolutely necessary. Moving disrupts people’s ability to settle into the community. Remaining in one location is also imperative to receiving consistent education and health treatment, including mental health support for vulnerable people.
  • People should be able to live in their home without fear of eviction. Nobody should fear being made imminently homeless, whatever the reason.

If people need to move, or to leave asylum accommodation, they should be given ample notice, along with professional advice to help people make the right decision for them. Policies should aim to keep people safe and housed as a priority. No-one should have their financial support or accommodation withdrawn until they have been able to access alternative provision.