“it was very tough. My son got sick every week because of our room’s condition. He was hospitalised five times during that time because of an asthma attack.”
Mazzey and her young family are one of many who are condemned to live in abhorring conditions. Her young boy is autistic and suffers from asthma. Upon their arrival from El Salvador, they were initially allocated to a hotel in London where the air conditioner’s filter in the room was filthy; the walls and ceiling were covered by mould. The room’s window was sealed, so they couldn’t open it and have fresh air. She said “Every week, I complained to the people in charge, who didn’t care about our condition. One of the regular volunteers English teachers who had experience in therapy, wrote an assessment letter about my son’s condition to the Home Office. But when I presented the letter, they said they didn’t want to see it.”
Families with young children are often housed in small rooms which are meant for one or two adults and for a very short time. The living condition in hotels are below minimum standards: Lack of proper hygiene, unhealthy and unbalanced food, small spaces and prison-like conditions have irreparable impacts on any individual’s mental and physical health, and unfortunately, many children are growing up in such conditions.
A single mom from the Caribbean, Monique, had to put mouse traps all over the room because the hotel was infested with rats and mousses. On a couple of occasions, her seven years old daughter almost got injured while she was playing in the room.
The lack of proper hygiene in an overcrowded closed space causes various disease outbreaks such as chickenpox or other infectious illnesses. Eli and her three children are no exception; “We frequently get sick. The hotel providers don’t care about cleanliness and hygiene, so soon after we recover from an illness, we get infected with something new.” Unfortunately, hygiene is not the only issue; there are so many reports about the horrible food quality in these hotels; they are often too spicey, particularly for children, fresh vegetables are missing, and meats are often uncooked or smelly.
Images of unsanitary rooms in asylum accommodation
Niyhan Khan, his wife and two children have been housed at a hotel in London for almost a year. His children are suffering from malnutrition because the meals served are inedible. His eight years old daughter’s hair is falling and causing her lots of distress. Eli also shared that her children go to bed hungry because they can’t eat the food their hotel provides. Like Eli’s children, Mazzey’s son couldn’t eat the food and immediately started losing weight. He would eat one slice of bread throughout the day, similar to Monique’s daughter; she doesn’t eat the meal but only bread with a little bit of butter.
Many people in hotels have health problems. According to Mazzey’s experience, many people in the hotel got diarrhoea. They mostly survived on breakfast which consisted of apple and banana, a piece of bread with jam and honey.
Pictures of unappetising and unsanitary food sent by people to Refugee Action.
Children are condemned to live in a similar condition to detention for an unknown period of time. They don’t have enough space to do their homework, play or have freedom of movement. They are forced to do their homework on beds that are too soft to write their assignments on or on the floor in a row cramped in a very small space. In other words, they are denied enjoying their childhood. Some children suffer from pre-existing conditions, like Mazzey’s son and Nadia’s seven-year-old son, who has a brain tumour for which they require special attention. The Home Office disregards these children’s needs and treats them cruelly by putting them in hotels with inadequate conditions. For instance, Nadia and her children were allocated to one of the London hotels where her sick child received medical treatment from one of the London hospitals. They suddenly were moved to Yorkshire, and he no longer has access to his hospital.
The other major issue regarding children’s well-being is safety. These hotels and their surrounding are not necessarily providing a safe environment for a child. There is no proper safeguarding policy for children in place, and parents are constantly scared for their children’s safety. In one instance, a nine years old girl was sexually molested in the Niyhan hotel’s lift. Eli’s daughter also experienced an uncomfortable encounter with older boys in their hotel. The responsibility of providing temporary accommodation for people who enter the UK to seek safety lies within the Home Office. In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, all decision processes on claims were suspended, and in order to prevent homelessness, the Home Office utilised empty hotels to house people.
Although the lockdown has lifted and the asylum process has been resumed, more than 51,000 people seeking safety are still in contingency hotels nationwide. Many families with young children are in hotels for months and even more than a year.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the UK is a state party, every child, regardless of race, religion, status, and background,” has the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and social needs and support their development” and the UK has taken numbers of obligations including children’s right to adequate living standard by having ratified in 1991 under Children Act 1989.
Yet, the government has significantly failed to implement the provision in asylum contingency hotels.
Forcing children to live in hotels is likely to create a generation of adults in the future with many mental health issues where it can be avoided. Eli’s and Niyhan’s children asked their parents if ‘they had done something wrong, so they deserve to be punished by living in the hotel and destitution.‘ These innocent children are experiencing the horror imposed on them by the Home Office’s hostile policy. The trauma caused by their living conditions may stay with them forever.