Report details plight of refugees and asylum seekers across Hounslow

Image above: Heathrow Hotel

Funding shortcomings laid bare in new report

Hounslow Council’s public health team have presented a comprehensive report highlighting the challenges posed by the increasing number of asylum seekers housed within the borough. Over the past years, the Home Office has opted to accommodate those awaiting asylum decisions in local hotels, primarily many in proximity to Heathrow Airport.

As of March 2023, there were 2,302 asylum seekers within the borough, a notable surge from 454 in 2020, albeit a slight decrease from the 2022 figure of 2,310. Approximately 70% of them  found themselves in eight designated hotels, marking the second-highest concentration of asylum seekers in hotels nationwide, trailing only behind Hillingdon, which shares proximity to  Heathrow.

Addressing misconceptions, Kelly O’Neill, Hounslow’s Director of Public Health, rebuffed the notion of luxury living within these facilities, emphasising the way in which the lives of asylum seekers awaiting government decisions are on hold, as the process often spans months or even years. Ms. O’Neill said:

“Those residing in these hotels await a determination of their future by the UK government, with over 70% likely to remain in the UK.”

The report advocates an ‘invest to save’ approach, urging enhanced healthcare provision during the application process to mitigate long-term health risks linked to applicants’ unresolved trauma and adverse experiences.

The significant population of asylum seekers—constituting 0.8% of Hounslow’s residents—places additional strain on local services provided by the council, NHS, and voluntary organisations. The situation is especially complex for the 87 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who require diverse support, including access to local schools.

The Home Office states that the increase in applications is due to the increase in small boat arrivals to the UK, which made up 44% of the asylum applications in the year ending March 2023. These have increased as a proportion because other, legal routes of claiming asylum have been closed down.

75% of asylum seekers waiting over six months for decisions

Hounslow Council, while receiving funding for asylum seeker accommodation, says the costs exceed the allocated grant. Dedicated teams coordinate support for asylum seekers and work closely with hotels, emphasising essential services for vulnerable groups.

The surge in housed asylum seekers is attributed to increased arrivals and a slowdown in application processing, with 75% waiting over six months for decisions. During this period, access to benefits and work is limited, further compounding challenges.

Concerns about the deteriorating situation post-March 2023 rose due to a Home Office policy maximising hotel capacity, leading to cramped living conditions and reduced personal space, and swift eviction once applicants are notified their asylum status has been approved. When they receive the news they are allowed to stay, they then have just six to ten days to find alternative accommodation and financial support.

The report highlights the impact of delays in processing asylum seekers’ applications. It was never intended they should stay in hotels for a prolonged period. Initially hotel accommodation was arranged as a short-term solution, but it has become long term, offering shelter, but resulting in a soulless existence within crowded, makeshift living spaces.

The lack of access to communal areas, kitchens, and a varied, nutritional diet, is notably lacking, says the report, impacting physical health.

“Overall, there was clear direction that living in hotel accommodation contributed to a perceived loss of control, agency, dignity, and identity; loss of autonomy and basic physiological, safety and psychological needs such as a sense of belonging were not being met” the report states.

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With asylum applications doubling and varied grant rates based on nationality, the report urges collaborative government action and increased resources for areas accommodating high numbers of asylum seekers. It recommends re-evaluating accommodation choices, providing communal spaces, staff training, and financial support for these communities.

The report will be tabled in the upcoming Council meeting on 28 November for further discussion and consideration of proactive measures.