An Iranian man who fled his home to avoid state execution is among thousands who are now stuck in London hotels, waiting to hear if they can stay in the UK or be forced to leave.
The man – who we will call Michael, as he did not want to be identified – was one of a dozen who were picked up from an inflatable dinghy in the English Channel and arrested last August.
With no possessions other than the clothes he was wearing, Michael was taken to Yarl’s Wood immigration centre in Bedford. He was then transferred to an unexpected location, a hotel in upmarket Earl’s Court, West London.
Data from the Home Office shows that, when he arrived, Michael was one of about 64,000 people in the UK with outstanding asylum applications. Of that number, about 46,000 had been waiting for more than six months for their applications to be decided.
Michael is one of hundreds of asylum seekers who are living in limbo in various hotels in Earl’s Court, hotels that the Home Office has commissioned since the Covid pandemic.
A local councillor, Linda Wade, believes that in Earl’s Court alone there are six hotels being used to house asylum seekers from all over the world which are run by contractor Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd.
In October, we reported that at least three hotels were being used to accommodate asylum seekers in the neighbouring borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and that others are being used in parts of London and other UK cities.
Michael, a medical student who fled Iran because he broke a law forbidding Muslims from converting to Christianity – an offence punishable by hanging – spoke of the living conditions in his hotel, and the uncertainty of his future.
“I am aware that there are people who [have been] waiting for 11 months or more [for their asylum case to be decided],” he said.
“I don’t know what I am waiting for… not a single government official or someone from the Home Office has talked to me to understand what is wrong.”
Michael continued: “I have a room to myself. It has a single bed and a bathroom. But in the hotel there’s nothing to do. We have our clothes and that’s it,” he said.
“They [the Home Office] asked Clearsprings to give us food three times a day. But the food is absolutely rubbish,” he said.
“It’s always Indian food, and the same every day with the same spices. It’s too spicy and sometimes it’s not cooked enough.
“I don’t care about myself really, but there are small children who can’t eat it and all they’re eating is bread and bananas.
“And the only water you can drink is from the bathroom taps. We get very basic toiletries.”
He said there are shared bathrooms for men and women, something many of the asylum seekers find afronting to their culture. There are no facilities to prepare food and little storage space.
Clearsprings was approached for comment but the company chose not to.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We engage with all partners, including local authorities, about the use of hotels as contingency accommodation on a regular basis.
“As a result of the pandemic, we have had to temporarily house some asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute in hotels to fulfil our statutory obligations. We are committed to ensuring asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay so those in need of protection are granted it as soon as possible, but some cases can be more complex and take a longer period of time to process and decide.
“We are fixing our asylum system to make it firm and fair, and are bringing forward legislation to stop abuse of the system while ensuring it is compassionate towards those who need our help, welcoming people through safe and legal routes.”
The Home Office gives a £40-a-month allowance to asylum seekers who live in hotels such as Michael’s where food is provided. In uncatered hotels, their allowance is £37.75 a week.
Charities like West London Welcome and Care4Calais have been collecting donations of clothes and toiletries, including basic items such as underwear and toothbrushes, and running clothes banks from St Cuthbert’s Church.
The charities have asked us not to identify the hotels due to concerns that far-right protestors will cause trouble.
Cllr Linda Wade, a Liberal Democrat, volunteers at a local clothes bank where she says women and young mothers have told her they have to buy their own sanitary products, and nappies for their babies, out of the allowance.
Michael also claims asylum seekers in his hotel have been “threatened” with being transferred to an ex-military camp in Folkestone, called Napier Barracks.
The Independent reported that Napier began taking asylum seekers in September last year.
Michael said: “They [hotel staff] say that if you ask too much or say too much they will send you to a military camp in Kent.
“At the camp there’s rooms with 20 people in them. If anyone there has coronavirus they will all get it. They have access to only one bathroom. It has been reported in the newspapers. The military base looks like a prison.”
Michael said that if it wasn’t for the clothes bank, run from St Cuthbert’s “I and many others would have nothing, not even underwear”.
With the likelihood of having to stay in Earl’s Court for months to come, Michael added: “I don’t have any hope that we will be able to stay here in the UK.
“I don’t know how long we will have to be in this situation. We are normal people who had lives. We’re not used to this situation.
“It’s like the whole world is against me just because I want to live freely.”
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