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What is life really like for refugees in horror hotels?

Racists proclaim that refugees live in luxury accommodation while ordinary people suffer. Sam Ord explains the truth behind life in these hotels
Issue 2843
Home secretary Suella Braverman is responsible for refugee hotels

Home secretary Suella Braverman keeps refugees in squalid hotels (Picture: Wikicommons/ No 10 Downing Street)

Thousands of refugees are trapped in hotels for months or even years in appalling conditions with poor food, no assistance and at risk of attack. The hotels are far from luxurious, despite what the right wing media and racist thugs like to claim.

Mohammed lived in the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside—the site of a racist riot recently—for 12 months. He was moved to dispersal ­accommodation three weeks ago. Mohammed told Socialist Worker, “It is very hard living there, the conditions are not fair. People are depressed all the time.

“People have nothing to do, so they stress about their next steps and the actions of the Home Office, which is very slow. We aren’t allowed to cook—the food is the same for everyone. Some people have high blood pressure or allergies. The quality and quantity for everyone decreased.”

Refugees are taken from the Channel and dumped in hotel rooms. They’re given no access to lawyers, mental health support or information about what will happen to them. They have no choice where they go and can be moved at a moment’s notice.

Mohammed is from Afghanistan. He fled the war and lived in Greece for two years where he volunteered with charities. Now in Knowsley, he continues to volunteer, teaching English to Dari speakers. Not everyone rejects him. He takes part in weekly ­football sessions at the nearby Liverpool FC Foundation to welcome him to the local area.

The hotel Mohammed lived in houses single men. Refugee charity Care4Calais described the mood in the hotel following the attack as “muted”. “People were naturally disturbed,” it added. A man from Afghanistan told the volunteers, “I wasn’t safe in my ­country and I’m not safe here.”

Once inside the hotels, refugees can be forced to share rooms with complete strangers and may be subjected to abuse from staff and security guards. Some are told not to leave the hotels, and it’s left to charities to provide support, clothing and proper food. 

Mohammed has heard racists claim that the hotel has a spa. “Maybe it used to, but not when I lived there,” he said. “There is no place to exercise. The hotel removed the gym but now the room is used for nothing. The equipment is still in the hotel. When we ask if we can use it the security tells us to speak to the reception and then the reception tells us to speak to security.”

Mohammed wishes that the process to grant his claim was faster, and worries about the potential for more racist attacks at hotels. “People shouldn’t judge before walking in others’ shoes,” he said. “I haven’t seen my family in four years.” This is the reality of Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman’s racist asylum system that makes life hell for refugees.

Bosses’ huge profits from the suffering

It’s no accident that the Tories abandon refugees and subject them to misery—it’s part of their racist agenda. But the appalling conditions have led to some arguing that refugees should be kept in good conditions—just not in the towns and cities that they live in. 

This is a slippery slope of saying, “Refugees are welcome, so long as they’re far away from me.” The problem in the first place is that refugees are left in hotels, unable to live safely or securely. Now the Tories plan to cut the costs of housing refugees. They’ve suggested old army sites, disused university halls and abandoned holiday parks.

But the money spent on hotels doesn’t go to refugees who live it up while British people suffer.  It goes to the companies—such as Mitie, Serco, Clearsprings and Mears—who run hotels, housing sites and detention centres. Clearsprings Ready Homes’ profits rose by 580 percent in 2022—to £34,589,745 thanks to its contracts with the Home Office. 

At its parent company, Clearsprings Management, the highest paid director received £674,191—a pay rise of more than 40 percent in a year. These companies profit from the misery of refugees.

 ‘We can’t cook, work, or do anything—it’s really hard’

Ahmed fled Sudan when he was 18. He is now 27, living in Leicester and has indefinite leave to remain. He was placed in a hotel near Heathrow airport in west London for six months. Ahmed told Socialist Worker, “Some people stayed in the hotel for one or two months and others stayed for over a year.

“Life in a hotel is difficult—it changes from person to person, it depends on the hotel and where you come from. Some people, for example, arrive with no phone or clothes.” Ahmed spent two years in Libya before making a dangerous journey in a small boat across the Mediterranean to Italy. 

He spent time in Europe looking for cars, trains, trucks or ferries to reach Britain. Finally, he crossed the Channel in a dinghy. Once he arrived, he was put in a hotel. Ahmed explained that while they wait for decisions on their asylum applications “we get just £8 a week”. 

“Families struggle more,” he said. “Kids are always crying because the hotels don’t have the services for them.” Two brothers from Syria are living in an east London budget hotel. They described their situation as “shit”. “We’re not allowed to cook, we can’t work, we can’t do anything—it’s really hard,” they said.

The eldest has been suffering with his physical and mental health. His recovery is hampered by the stress of the slow asylum process and hotel security regularly entering people’s rooms unannounced. He spends the little money he has on the bus to college for weekly English lessons and the rest on travelling to a hospital.

The brothers and their mother pre-cook meals weekly at church to make their tiny budget stretch. But last week hotel staff unplugged the communal fridge, spoiling the food. The eldest brother said, “I don’t want help from the government, I don’t want the £8, I don’t want to be in the hotel. I just want to be able to work.”

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