Content warning: contains image of injury.
For most of us our homes are our sanctuary, our place of safety from the outside word. It’s where we eat with our families and sleep soundly.
However humble our home may be, living in it should not feel like a risk to our lives, it should not strip us of our dignity, our privacy or our mental wellbeing.
But for many people stuck in the UK’s asylum system, this is exactly what their accommodation does.
For people such as O*, who was sitting on her couch with her baby girl when the ceiling collapsed on them both, or F*, who had human waste flood his kitchen, or S*, who had to return to her mould-infested home with her premature young son, who suffered lung problems.
O*’s daughter’s injury after the ceiling collapsed in their asylum accommodation.
Or for J*, living indefinitely in a small hotel room that was searched by staff without any warning, or R* who had to return to a hotel room after giving birth to her baby, or the countless others forced to eat drab, almost inedible, unhealthy food, denied the independence to support themselves.
In response to the appalling conditions that many people seeking asylum are forced to live in, we have worked with colleagues in the refugee sector and people with lived experience of asylum accommodation to create six principles that should govern every building in which people stuck in the system live. These are:
- Are people able to stay safe?
- Do people have privacy?
- Are people able to connect with loved ones, support services, legal advice and the wider community?
- Does the accommodation reflect (and respond to) people’s needs?
- Do people have autonomy and independence?
- Do people have stability?
It’s clear that these principles are reasonable when you consider their opposites.
Should people be housed anywhere that isn’t safe, isn’t private, isn’t connected, isn’t stable, doesn’t support independence, and doesn’t reflect and respond to people’s needs? It’s obvious that they should not.
These principles are fundamental for all of us, they are what any of us should expect from the home we live in.
But people in the UK’s asylum system are not afforded such essentials.
Close your eyes. Now imagine not being allowed to decide what you and your family eat, imagine having being a physically disabled person told to live on the fifth floor of a block of flats, imagine having no way to connect to loved ones, imagine being regularly moved across the country without notice, imagine having no lock on your door, imagine your home literally falling down around you and your young children. And now imagine you have to live like this indefinitely.
It must change. We demand that these accommodation principles act as minimum standards for authorities.
Any accommodation considered for housing people seeking asylum should meet these standards.
The asylum system is brutal enough. Government policy keeps traumatised people who have fled war and persecution stuck in the complex and labyrinthine system for years, with no right to work, little money, and no clue of what their future holds.
A safe home is the very least it must offer.
Alongside this, our sector partners Asylum Matters and NACCOM have published their own set of principles that authorities must stick to when deciding where people should be moved to once they have claimed asylum. These principles can be read here.
We don’t think anyone could honestly say this is too much to ask.
*these letters represent real people in the asylum system who we’ve anonymised at their request.