The “rat-infested” conditions in which 38,000 asylum seekers are housed in Britain by the Home Office while they wait for their refugee claims to be decided have been branded “disgraceful” by MPs.
The House of Commons home affairs select committee has called for a major overhaul of the system for housing destitute asylum seekers in Britain after hearing evidence of some families living in homes with infestations of mice, rats and bedbugs.
One woman complained that her kitchen was “full of mice” that “ran across the dining room table” while they were eating. For one torture survivor the presence and noise of rats triggered flashbacks to the rat-infested cell where he had been detained and tortured.
Migrant Voice released a dossier documenting what it called “systematic neglect” of asylum housing and said comments from asylum seekers included: “I can’t stop crying and I cannot eat because of the mouldy smell. I am five months pregnant and I am scared that I have to raise my child in this way with dirt and vermin”, and “I feel that anything could happen and G4S would not put necessary measures in place to ensure my safety”.
The committee chair, Yvette Cooper, said that even where the accommodation and support were of a good standard, asylum housing was still far too concentrated in the most deprived areas.
The MPs’ report, published on 31 January 2017, shows that while there are 1,042 asylum seekers housed in Bolton and 1,029 in Rochdale, there are only 88 housed in the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd’s Hastings and Rye constituency and none at all in Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency.
The Home Office contracts to provide housing for dispersed asylum seekers were awarded in 2012 to three providers, G4S, Serco and Clearsprings Ready Homes, under the Compass contracts. But the companies told the MPs they were now housing more people than the contracts allowed funding for because of growing delays in Home Office asylum processing and increasing numbers of applications.
The report reveals that the latest figures for “work in progress” on asylum applications has doubled from 37,381 in 2012 to 77,440 in 2016, with more than 20,000 waiting for an initial decision on their claims for refugee status.
Cooper said: “The state of accommodation for some asylum seekers and refugees in this country is a disgrace. We have come across too many examples of vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation, for example children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of healthcare for pregnant women, or inadequate support for victims of rape and torture. No one should be living in conditions like that.”
She said it was unfair that those local communities that had signed up to take asylum seekers were housing more and more people while many local authorities in more affluent areas were doing nothing.
“The current contract system is badly designed and puts local authorities off from signing up. Ministers should learn from the success of the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme which has given local authorities far more control and has also got far more local authorities involved. Similar reforms are needed for asylum seekers,” said Cooper.
The report says that on 8 December the Home Office announced that the Compass contracts were to be extended for two years until August 2019. The terms of the contracts were revised and G4S and Serco estimate that their losses on housing each asylum family will be reduced. Serco expects its losses to be £20m lower while G4S said its would be restricted to the £47m already announced.
The Local Government Association responded to the MPs’ report saying that more than 200 local authorities were becoming dispersal areas. It said: “We hope that the government’s future contracts for asylum accommodation and support addresses the challenges in securing accommodation in other local authority areas, particularly where there is limited availability and high-cost housing.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it was committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while asylum applications were considered.
“We work closely with our contractors to ensure they provide accommodation that is safe, habitable, fit for purpose and adequately equipped and we conduct regular inspections to check that this is the case. We have also made significant improvements to the operation of the contracts including increasing the number of dispersal areas by more than a third,” they said. “We will consider the committee’s recommendations and respond in full shortly.”
Summary of the research by Migrant Voice dated January 2017 (A report on housing conditions for asylum seekers in Birmingham and the West Midlands)
- Over 50% of respondents stating that their accommodation was unclean, and they were not provided with cleaning equipment.
- 44% reported infestation including mice, rats and bedbugs.
- 50% recorded delays in response to repair requests, including repairs to the electricity and water supply.
- Only 22% said they felt satisfied with their accommodation, and of those some respondents gave only the reason that it was preferable for street homelessness.
- Only 11% of respondents felt they had positive interactions with housing staff.
- Many reported feeling intimidated and under scrutiny from housing officers, including instances of knocking without entering, threatening and aggressive behaviour, and sexual harassment.
- Only 16% of respondents felt physically safe in their accommodation, with many reporting stress or depression.