John McDonnell MP
I have two detention centres in my constituency, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook. I will come back in another debate to explain the brutality of the regime in those detention centres, which is abhorrent.
One of the opportunities given to us by Westminster Hall debates is to explain to Ministers what is happening on the ground, as against some of the advice they might be getting from officials. Since last June, two hotels in my constituency have been used to house 600 asylum seekers, as a response to the covid pandemic.
I welcome those people into my constituency. I have met them and they are largely seeking refuge from Syria, Iran and other oppressive regimes or war-torn or impoverished areas of the world. Many arrived here with little more than the clothes they stand up in. To respond, I set up a working group, with representatives from the Home Office, the contractor Clearsprings, the local NHS, council and community groups. I commend the Bell Farm Christian Centre, and Diane Faichney and Stuart Mathers in particular.
Despite all the hard work of those involved, major problems have arisen due to the basic administration of the scheme. For instance, outsourcing food provision to a hotel resulted in people going hungry, and the Bell Farm Christian Centre’s foodbank being overwhelmed, as refugees simply sought food to feed their families. The small financial support allowance is often not paid and backlogs build up. At one point a curfew was imposed, causing real anxiety because detainees felt they were almost in a prison. We also struggled to get agreement with the local council on school places.
Since then, there have been sudden removals of families from those hotels. Although we had been assured that there would be adequate notice, people have sometimes been given just two hours to move, and not told where they are going or where they will eventually be put. Local teachers have contacted me extremely distressed about the impact on already vulnerable children, who had just begun to settle in their schools. We were assured that everything would be done to provide settled accommodation, but we now discover people have simply been dispatched around the country into more hotels and often into appalling standards of accommodation.
We all accept that the overriding concern during the pandemic was to keep people safe, but immediate action is needed to provide support and assistance to these often extremely traumatised people, many of whom have already been diagnosed with PTSD. That means decent, settled accommodation and advice and support, ensuring that those families are fully engaged in determining their own futures. This has been a shameful, disgraceful performance by this Government.