Mears moves 300 Glasgow asylum seekers into hotels where social distancing is ‘impossible’



Charities have reacted with alarm at reports that more than 300 men and women seeking asylum in Glasgow have been moved out of apartments and into hotels where they are worried that they can’t practice social distancing.

According to an article in the Guardian, private housing provider Mears, which is subcontracted by the Home Office, gave the asylum seekers less than an hour’s notice to pack up their belongings before being moved into city centre hotels.

Men, women and in some cases families and pregnant women, as well as people assessed as having severe mental health problems or potential survivors of trafficking are amongst those who have been moved over the past ten days.

Positive Action in Housing said it is aware of destitute asylum seekers being accommodated in hotels and having all their financial support withdrawn, leaving them unable to top up their phones to keep contact with lawyers, caseworkers and GPs, or buy extra food or hand sanitiser.

More worrying still, many asylum seekers have informed the charity that there are no social distancing measures in place.

Hotel residents have fixed meal collection times, no access to food or drink outside those hours, other than water, and some say they cannot even open their bedroom windows. 

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, said: “It concerns us greatly that the Home Office has cut the meagre cash support of £35 a week, which ultimately could help people stay safe, nourished and process their paperwork so they can get their status sorted out and begin to lead stable lives.

“It is a public health issue that there are no social distancing measures in place, and you cannot socially distance if you are on the 10th floor and need to use the lift.

“Boredom will inevitably send people on to the streets. It takes just one person to infect hundreds of other fellow asylum seekers. Additionally, what arrangements are in place if someone has to self isolate?”

The situation is all the more precarious with the beginning of Ramadhan this evening, which sees Muslim families get up around 2.30 am to pray and eat, then they cannot drink or eat until 8.40 pm or later because of the longer days. However, the hotel kitchens are closed during the required hours.

Ms Qureshi added: “Mears has offered a prayer mat, which unfortunately shows how clueless they are. Muslims don’t need a prayer mat to pray. They need their human rights and access to accommodation that they can keep clean and eat nourishing meals at the times they need.

“People are worried about the virus and there are no social distancing measures in place in the meals area. Lifts are too small to keep people apart. People complain that they cannot buy fresh fruit for their rooms because their Home Office Aspen card no longer works and there is little hand sanitisation in place.

“There is a reason that a field hospital has been built at Glasgow’s SECC, and a mass mortuary in Hillington. Mears is potentially putting public health and NHS resources at risk.

“We would call on the Home Office to reinstate cash support and Mears to urgently review the measures currently in place to ensure the health and safety of us all during this lockdown.”

Alison Watson, deputy director of Shelter Scotland, said: “These reports are extremely worrying. Shelter Scotland has worked with partners in the city for many months to highlight the growing humanitarian crisis facing people who have been told that they no longer qualify for any form of help or support from public bodies, and that their claims for asylum have been exhausted.

“In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative that everyone is provided with safe accommodation. We need an urgent statement from the Home Office and from Mears explaining why this has taken place when the government guidance is that households shouldn’t be mixing. Taking hundreds of people from their homes and moving them into hotel accommodation where they can’t practice social distancing is unacceptable. ”

Mears insists that people are being “safely and appropriately” housed, in accordance with health authority guidance.

A spokesperson said lockdown measures had severely limited the company’s capacity to utilise short-term let accommodation for new asylum applicants.

They added: “Therefore we had no alternative but to procure hotel space where we can safely and appropriately house and support each person with food and health services without restriction on time of residence.

“All movement of the people concerned was undertaken in accordance with health authority guidance on social distancing and use of PPE. The safety and wellbeing of each person is paramount and Mears are working hard to ensure we meet all obligations at this very difficult time.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it was “totally incorrect” to suggest that there were problems with social distancing, adding: “We are only moving asylum seekers where it is necessary, strictly following guidance from public health authorities, and into accommodation that ensures social distancing. This is to help stop the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.”

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