Southwark Council have raised “deep concerns” about the living conditions of hundreds of asylum seekers housed in a hostel by the Home Office in Southwark.
Around 500 men have been placed by the Home Office in a hostel that, a year ago, was deemed unsafe for rough house sleepers by Southwark Council due to the inability to social distance inside – and which has now seen a COVID-19 outbreak.
The council have yet to received a response from Home Secretary Priti Patel to a letter signed by council leader Kieron Williams and neighbourhood and equalities cabinet member Alice Macdonald, in which they lay out their concerns for the health and mental wellbeing of the asylum seekers.
In a statement, Cllr Williams said: “This accommodation has been booked without any consultation with us, and falls short of the minimum standards any person would expect.
“We have repeatedly raised our deep concerns with the Home Office; they urgently need to take responsibility and to ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of everyone in this accommodation.”
The hostel, which is managed by Home Office contractor Clearsprings Ready Homes, has roughly 100 rooms, only around 70 of which are self-contained.
While the Home Office stated that the maximum number permitted to each room is ten, residents speaking to the Independent newspaper reported that some rooms had more than fifteen people staying in them.
One resident said: “We are worried. I don’t feel safe. It’s lots of people in a small space. The Home Office doesn’t respond to our calls.”
Another added: “I have no money. I have one pair of trousers, one pair of shoes, one jumper.
“There’s no one to assist us.”
Asylum seekers facing problems with the accommodation are encouraged to contact Home Office-contracted Migrant Help – however, the News understands that residents have struggled to get their messages through, and say they have not been given help.
The Home Office add that residents are supplied with three meals a day and other amenities, and that there are strict quarantine and self-isolation measures in place.
The building was inspected last week by an Infection Prevention and Control Nurse from the NHS.
However, the council argue that the recent COVID-19 outbreak has been exacerbated by the difficulty of social distancing or self-isolation in the hostel, and was, as stated in the council’s letter, “entirely predictable.”
The council’s letter also stated that the building, which the council have request not be named in order to protect the identities of the asylum seekers involved, is “clearly not suited or designed to sustain this level of occupation.”
It later added: “The mental and physical health of the residents of the building will be deteriorating given the conditions in which they are currently being kept.”
Southwark Council claimed the Home Office has not yet responded to its letter.
A Home Office spokesperson said its accommodation “must meet relevant health and safety legislation and provide their latest health and safety risk assessment”.
They added: “Due to unprecedented demand we have had to use temporary accommodation to manage demands on the asylum estate and we encourage all local authorities to volunteer their support and work with us.
“We take the welfare of asylum seekers very seriously and work closely with our providers, Public Health England and other relevant authorities to ensure all medical advice is closely followed and people self-isolate where needed.”
Clearsprings Ready Homes have not yet responded to a request for comment.