MPs decry ‘shocking conditions’ at facilities for asylum seekers

MPs have raised serious concerns about “shocking conditions” they found in Kent holding facilities for asylum seekers, including an unaccompanied child housed in an office space for 10 days, and a girl forced to sleep on a sofa for days on end.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, has written to home secretary Priti Patel following a committee visit on Tuesday in which MPs saw asylum seekers held in cramped, unsafe and “completely inappropriate” facilities.

Cooper described how they found 56 people crammed into a small, unventilated waiting room before they were assigned an onward placement. There was no social distancing, or mask wearing, and it was hard to see how it was Covid-safe, she said.

“Most people were sitting or lying on a thin mattress and those covered almost the entirety of the floor including the aisles between seats. Sharing these cramped conditions were many women with babies and very young children alongside significant numbers of teenage and young adult men,” she wrote.

The MPs also visited the Atrium facility – “essentially an office space with a large central room and several adjoining offices” – where asylum seekers were held while awaiting ongoing travel, often for several days at a time and in some cases for up to 10 days.

Cooper said the Home Office had confirmed to the committee that one of the individuals held in the Atrium facility for over 10 days was an unaccompanied child. They also said: “One girl was sleeping on a sofa in an office, as the only available separate sleeping accommodation. For children, this kind of accommodation for days on end is completely inappropriate.”

She added: “It is extremely troubling that a situation has been allowed to arise, and persist, where vulnerable children, families and young people are being held in this manifestly inappropriate office space for days and even weeks.”

The home affairs committee letter comes amid rising concern among councils and children’s charities about the legality of the Home Office housing asylum seeker children in hotels. Under the Children Act, local authorities have legal responsibility for the care of the children.

Brighton and Hove council has written to Patel requesting guarantees about the safety and care of dozens of unaccompanied asylum seeker children who were put up in a local hotel with just 24 hours notice, and without consultation. The council said it understood one of the new arrivals had tested positive for Covid, and that the Home Office was arranging PCR tests for all at the hotel.

Council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty said it had asked for reassurance about the current and ongoing care and support of the children, but had yet to receive a reply. “While we continue to push for information, we are also seeking our own legal advice to clarify the responsibilities the Home Office has for these young people and what this covers exactly.”

Comments are closed.