By Iona Holmes
Just a few weeks ago, reports concerning the appalling conditions that asylum seekers were being subjected to in Glasgow hotels started to trickle through media outlets. When a stabbing occurred at the city’s Park Inn Hotel on the 26th June, the news instantly hit the headlines.
Following some initial misreporting, the facts unfolded over the subsequent hours and days. Badreddin Abadlla Adam, an asylum seeker who had been living at the hotel, had stabbed and seriously injured six people, including hotel staff, a policeman and asylum seekers. As of the 3rd July, four of those injured remained in hospital. The suspect was shot dead at the scene, while grassroots organisations sought to support those who had been evacuated from the hotel.
The incident itself is undoubtedly traumatic for all those involved, from the family and friends of the injured, to those working and living at the hotel. But on top of this, it escalates wider concerns about the adequacy of support provided to vulnerable communities during Covid-19 and the UK’s treatment of asylum seekers on the whole.
Taking asylum seekers’ mental health seriously
This tragic event came soon after another asylum seeker, a torture survivor who revealed to have been suffering from suicidal thoughts, was found dead in his Glasgow hotel room. In both the stabbing and this suspected suicide, concerns surrounding the mental health of the individuals involved had been raised in the days before. However, in neither situation were such worries acted upon, which ultimately led to lives being lost.
The lack of care extends beyond these two isolated instances; it permeates decision-making processes surrounding asylum seekers’ support. Mears, the private contractor to whom asylum seeker accommodation has been outsourced by the Home Office, have admitted that they failed to carry out vulnerability assessments before moving nearly 400 people into hotels at the outset of the pandemic. Simply uprooting such a large number of people without any prior assessment illustrates a disregard for the wellbeing of a community amongst whom mental health issues are rife.
Moreover, support group Migrants Organising Rights and Empowerment reported that many of those evacuated from the Park Inn hotel were left sitting on the streets, scared and without food, for hours. In the following days, no trauma support was available and they had to wait up to four days for headache medication.
Even after being at the centre of a severe incident, the basic needs of the asylum seekers affected were not accounted for. The mental health of this community needs to be priority, and when alarm bells ring, immediate support should be provided.
Hotels aren’t homes
Mears justified their decision to move asylum seekers from private residences into hotels on the basis that it would be safer and easier to meet their needs. For example, they claimed they didn’t know how best to distribute asylum seekers’ £37.75 weekly allowance. Therefore, they decided it would be more effective to move them into hotels, provide three meals per day and cut their allowance altogether.
In practice, this approach heightened Covid-19 risks and disempowered an already vulnerable community. Social distancing was reported to be near impossible in these hotel environments: asylum seekers ate communal meals at the same time and expressed concern over contaminated door handles and elevator buttons. This is particularly worrying given the increased risk of Covid-19 for ethnic minority communities, who make up the majority of the asylum-seeking population.
Up to 100 asylum seekers had been refusing food in protest to the conditions they were being kept in, wanting their communities back and their allowance re-instated. Many reported increased levels of fear and anxiety after being housed in hotels, and being left without money to top up their phones to contact lawyers, buy hand sanitiser or period products.
One couple, who were moved out of the hotel and back into a flat, described cooking their first meal that had been bought with their own money was “like therapy” and that they were starting to feel like “normal people” again. As emphasised by the Scottish Refugee Council, those seeking refuge require safe accommodation – a home – to settle into their new environments and rebuild their life. Temporary accommodation in hotels will never be sufficient.
Towards a humane asylum system
The circumstances surrounding this incident are symptomatic of the chronic dehumanisation of asylum seekers. From being given monetary support at 50% of the rate afforded to British citizens, to being subjected to indefinite detention for incorrectly completing documentation, they are consistently treated as undeserving of the same standard of treatment as other human beings. In this context, the lack of mental health support coupled with the decision to move asylum seekers into hotels during a pandemic appears less shocking, but remains unacceptable.
Moving forwards, the government needs to adopt a proactive response to asylum seeker support, centred upon what this community needs and desires. Locals carried out invaluable work in the aftermath of this tragedy in providing essentials for those affected, emphasising the truth behind the ‘People Make Glasgow’ slogan. But, this should not distract from the authority’s responsibility to support these individuals – in the wake of a horrific event, during a public health crisis, and beyond.