‘I hope things get better’: asylum seekers left fearful and depressed by multiple hotel moves | Refugees

Precariously perched on a sea of suitcases, Lidl carrier bags and bulging bin liners is an orange hardback bible, an image of calm amid a chaotic scene of buggies, baby baths and other flimsily bound belongings

It’s moving day at a London hotel used by the Home Office to accommodate asylum seekers, and about 50 families – up to 100 people – are due to leave.

Many – distraught and tearful about the enforced move – have not been told where they are going, while some have joined members of the community, including a local head teacher and a vicar, at a protest about the move in front of the hotel.

People move their belongings on to the waiting bus as they prepare to leave. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

“We have been told we have no choice. If we don’t go today we will be left on the streets. I am settled here and am going to college. They are taking away the one good thing in my life,” sobs a woman from Afghanistan.

The Home Office says it is planning to end hotel use, which is costing the government more than £5m a day. Yet many of those told they must board the waiting coaches say that they are simply moved from one hotel to another, with some reporting four or five hotel moves within the past 18 months.

As they load their belongings into the coaches, many look beaten and resigned. Three families have refused to leave and four police officers are sent into the hotel to persuade them to come out. Eventually they do.

Leivi from Honduras holds her baby, Brittany. It is her first birthday today. Brittany has no idea what is happening and smiles for the camera.

One family from Turkey are distraught that their eight-year-old son, who is thriving at school, will have to find a new school place and may have to wait for weeks or months before resuming his education.

A Russian man who demonstrated against Putin with his wife says she is sick and waiting for surgery.

“Today is a terrible day,” he said. “Mothers who are breastfeeding their babies are crying that their milk is drying up from the stress of moving, a father with an autistic son is crying that his child will no longer be able to attend the special school he finally secured a place in.”

Protesters against asylum seekers being movedA protest organised by Ealing Asylum Support Enterprise outside the hotel. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

A 13-year-old Eritrean boy frets that he will once again be left without a school. He arrived in the UK two years and three months ago and is now attending his fourth school, a place he loves. He has learned to speak English well at his current school and is particularly keen on maths and languages. Today, he and his mother will be taken to their fifth hotel since arriving here.

Leah Wright, the head teacher at John Perryn primary school in East Acton, is visibly upset and has joined the protest.

“At the start of the term we had 15 asylum seeker children, aged between four and 10, enrolled at our school. This move means more trauma for many children who have already suffered enough,” she says.

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A Home Office spokesperson said: “Asylum accommodation is offered on a no-choice basis across the United Kingdom and we continue to ensure that accommodation provided is safe, secure and appropriate for an individual’s needs.”

Four days on, the families have very mixed updates.

Some have been moved to a hotel in Kent. “I have applied for a new school place for my son. The council has said they will get back to me. We do not know when that will be or how far away the school will be when they find one,” says the Turkish mother.

The Russian couple were moved to the same hotel, but due to the wife’s illness they were moved back to London to another hotel after two days.

Roxana from El SalvadorRoxana from El Salvador had been living in the accommodation in west London for six months before being moved on. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

A woman who has been moved to a hotel in east London with the four-month-old baby she is breastfeeding has not left her room since Monday. She has told Larissa Pelham from Ealing Asylum Support Enterprise, which has provided support for many of the families in the west London hotel, that the move has left her paralysed with fear and depression. Children in their new hotel accommodation say they are unable to eat the food there.

The Eritrean boy was taken to a hotel with his mother on the other side of London. He is happy because he has not lost his current school place.

“Before I was very close to my school. Now it is two buses and a walk and it will take me about one and a quarter hours. I will have to go to bed very early and get up very early so I can get to school on time. I’m trying to make the new area we’ve been moved to into my home town. I just want to have a place I can call home and not worry about moving all the time. I hope things get better.”


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