Last weekend, I took part in a distribution with Care4Calais at a hotel where asylum seekers are being housed while they wait for their asylum interview (which can take over a year). It was a small and sad insight into the lives of asylum seekers in the UK.
Asylum seekers often arrive to the UK with only the clothes they are wearing. When staying in full-board accommodation, they are provided with only £3 a week for clothing and £4.70 per week for travel and are not allowed to work. Therefore, we provided new arrival packs to those who had recently arrived at the hotel, to give people a full change of clothes. For those who had already received a new arrival pack, we offered jeans or a t-shirt. It was really difficult saying no to people asking for more clothes because they have so little, but we had to make sure there were enough for the hundreds of people staying in the hotel. But the saddest moment was when a young girl, about 3 years old, dropped the sweets we’d given her on the floor and burst into tears with her dad, who had nothing else to give her. Watching her trying to play, in a car park with no other children around, was heartbreaking.
There has been little coverage of the conditions in the hotels by the media. However, charities working with asylum seekers have reported on the impact it has had on asylum seekers’ physical and mental health.
Asylum seekers have their phones taken from them when they arrive and are given a phone number and instructions in English about how to get it back – this is obviously difficult for people without a phone and for those who don’t speak English. We spoke to one man who hasn’t been able to contact his family since he’s arrived and isn’t able to use someone else’s phone as his family’s numbers are all stored on his phone. Not having a phone also makes it really difficult to access the legal support which is so important for an asylum interview.
People have no choice of food and the food they are given is often unfamiliar and can make them ill, meaning many choose to go without food a lot of the time. There is no access to cooking facilities.
Access to mental health support is difficult, and there have also been allegations of sexual
People can be moved to new locations without any warning, sometimes in the middle of the night and without being told where they are going. This takes people away from support networks they have built and can be traumatising for any asylum seeker, particularly those who have been victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
Care4Calais is doing amazing work to support asylum seekers in the UK, with material things such as clothing and food, legal support, and acting as a friendly face. They are always looking for more volunteers – if you are interested in volunteering there’s more information here.