Home Secretary questioned on support for asylum seekers during coronavirus pandemic

29 June 2020

Alison Thewliss MP asked an urgent question on accommodation and support for asylum seekers in the UK.

Last Friday, a man stabbed six people at a hotel housing asylum seekers in Glasgow. The people injured included three asylum seekers, two members of staff and one police officer. The assailant, who was also seeking asylum, was shot dead by the police. There will now be an investigation by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

Charities and some MPs have raised concerns about asylum seekers being removed from self-contained accommodation to hotels by Mears, a subcontractor used by the Home Office who provide the private housing. In particular, there have been questions about conditions in the hotels and about the mental health impacts of relocating people. Campaigners are now calling for an independent inquiry into the practice.

Chris Philp: "we will continue to look after asylum seekers"

Responding on behalf of the Home Secretary, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department Chris Philp MP said his thoughts were with the victims of the attack. He paid special tribute to the first responders who "ran towards danger to protect the public".

Mr Philp said he could only provide "limited information" on the events in Glasgow due to the investigation underway, but said he wanted to talk about the UK's "proud history of supporting asylum seekers". He said that last year the country made 20,000 grants of asylum and welcomed more than 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the "highest number of any country in Europe".

The Minister said that the UK has a "statutory obligation" to house destitute asylum seekers, with utilities and council tax paid for and access to free healthcare on the NHS. He said free education is available to children and an allowance is given to cover "essential living needs".

He stated that the practice of moving asylum seekers on from the accommodation provided after their claims have been approved or denied has been "paused" during the coronavirus pandemic. He said that the Home Office has been "frantically procuring additional accommodation" to account for this, although he acknowledged that the situation was different in Glasgow.

The Minister concluded:

"As our nation has been battling coronavirus, we have continued and will continue to look after asylum seekers."

Alison Thewliss: Event has "heaped trauma onto already vulnerable people"

In her response, Alison Thewliss MP also paid tribute to the victims and thanked the emergency services for their bravery.

Ms Thewliss noted that concerns had been raised to the Minister by her colleague Chris Stephens MP "less than two weeks ago". She said that at the start of the lockdown, Mears moved 231 people from serviced flats into city centre hotels without consulting Glasgow Council, "as it is obliged to do".

She noted that, contrary to evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee by the boss of Mears, these people included vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, trafficked women, victims of torture, family groups and young people. She said they were given "little notice", citing reports that one family were given only half an hour to pack their belongings.

The Member asked the Minister "which Whitehall source" informed the BBC that three people had died in the Glasgow attack, if he will suspend Mears' contract after they "misled Committee members" and admitted no vulnerability assessment had been carried out. She also asked if he would reinstate the "meagre £5.37 a day" given as a cash allowance, suspend evictions during the pandemic, work with the Scottish Government to return asylum seekers to appropriate accommodation and authorise an inquiry into asylum accommodation.

The Minister concluded:

"Will he take responsibility and apologise for a saga that has heaped trauma on to already vulnerable people in Glasgow and across the UK?"

    Image: PA Images

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