A report by a UK government immigration watchdog has revealed that many properties for asylum seekers are dirty, damp and infested with vermin. Inspectors also found that much accommodation is unsuitable, putting vulnerable migrants under further strain.
The report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration was submitted in draft form to the Home Office in July and released earlier this week.
"My report is likely to please no one," the Chief Inspector, David Bolt says.
Poor property standards
Bolt's inspection took evidence from more than 40 organizations providing support and advocacy for asylum seekers. Most of the submissions focused on poor property standards, including complaints of pest infestations, leaks and damp.
One submission from an ex-employee of one of the private companies contracted to provide accommodation said:
"I have known children suffering with health problems such as asthma stay in houses with severe damp ... A young child in a basement flat has been living in the property since birth. It is dark, damp with dirty carpets."
In some reception centers (called Initial Accommodation in the UK), single mothers had to leave their babies unattended to do their laundry, and highly traumatized young people were placed in houses with older men who had alcohol and drug use problems.
Private firms in charge
In the UK, asylum seekers who are destitute receive financial and accommodation support from the government. Since 2012, the Home Office has outsourced the provision of this accommodation across the country to three private companies - G4S, Serco and Clearsprings.
Over the past six years, several reviews and audits of the companies' performance under the government contracts have strongly criticized the quality and standards of accommodation provided to asylum seekers.
Following an investigation by the National Audit Office in 2014, which found that two of the three providers were failing to meet targets, the companies argued that the Home Office had under-represented the number of asylum seekers needing to be accommodated.
The Chief Inspector's report says that if the government managed asylum claims more efficiently, there would be less demand for asylum accommodation.
The report says the Home Office should do more before the new contracts begin in September 2019 to improve its own system of inspecting asylum seeker properties. It also recommends that the government make sure that the providers (meaning the contracted companies) identify vulnerable asylum seekers, including LGBTQI individuals and pregnant women and new mothers, so that they can be offered appropriate support.
The government has accepted the report's recommendations and says it aims to improve the current accommodation contracts.
Refugee support groups respondThe report was welcomed by several organizations, including Refugee action and the Refugee Council, which said "the poor quality of accommodation for people seeking asylum ... has been raised many times before by the Refugee Council and many other stakeholders."