Asylum seekers remain at heightened risk of contracting Covid without stronger action from the Home Office, Home Affairs Committee finds - Refugee Council
July 28, 2020

Asylum seekers remain at heightened risk of contracting Covid without stronger action from the Home Office, Home Affairs Committee finds

The Home Affairs Select Committee has published a report on institutional accommodation for people seeking asylum, as part of its inquiry into the Home Office’s response to Covid.

The report examines the provision of institutional accommodation by different private sector contractors during the pandemic, and policy decisions made by the Home Office. While it praises several sensible steps taken in the early stages of the pandemic, such as suspending evictions from Home Office accommodation and increasing the asylum support rate, the report raises serious concerns regarding long stays in hotel accommodation, provision of hygiene products, and the lack of cash support available to people accommodation in hotels. The report also makes a series of recommendations on how the Home Office should manage the next phase of the national response to Covid.

Responding to the report, Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:

This report raises a number of important issues regarding asylum policy during the pandemic. There have been long-standing concerns over the increased use of hotels as contingency accommodation, and the extended length of time people are being housed in accommodation that was only designed to be used as a temporary measure. We continue to see the damaging impact on people’s wellbeing of being housed in hotels for extended periods. The lack of access to cash, and limited access to information and support services, serves only to increase the sense of isolation and dependency that people seeking asylum are experiencing.

Whilst we recognise the need to use hotel accommodation as a short term contingency measure, people seeking asylum should never be housed in hotel accommodation for sustained periods of time. When people are housed in hotels, the Home Office should take additional measures to ensure the needs of vulnerable people are identified and addressed. This should include the provision of a cash allowance, a permanent end to unrelated adults sharing rooms, and improved access to information and support services.

We very much welcomed several progressive steps the Home Office took in the early stages of the pandemic, such as the temporary suspension of evictions and asylum reporting requirements, and the extension of asylum support for refugees until their first welfare payment is received and it is imperative that planning for the next phase of the national response to Covid incorporates these measures on a permanent basis.  It would be a huge step backwards if progressive policies, such as the extension of asylum support for refugees until their first welfare payment is received, were not implemented permanently going forward.

As we move into the next phase of the national response to Covid, it is absolutely  imperative that the Home Office works proactively with local authorities and the refugee and asylum sector to ensure the needs of people seeking asylum are better addressed going forward. Local authorities and the refugee and asylum sector have a wealth of expert knowledge and ‘on the ground experience’ of working with this population, and it would be amiss to not make best use of this expertise.”

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