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Asylum seekers put at risk by sharing hotel rooms, report warns

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The government’s plan to reduce the hotel bill for asylum seekers by forcing them to share rooms with strangers has been criticised by a group of MPs as unsafe and alarming.

According to a report by Independent, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Home Office had not shown that it had taken into account the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable people who may have experienced trauma before making them share rooms.

The PAC also questioned the government’s ability to end the use of hotels for asylum seekers, which costs £8m a week, and to clear the backlog of asylum cases, which reached a record high of 175,000 in August.

The PAC report, published on Tuesday, said the government had failed to demonstrate that it had a credible plan to exit from hotels and provide suitable accommodation for asylum seekers. It said the government had not consulted local authorities or health services about the impact of its decision to make asylum seekers share rooms, which could increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission and mental health problems.

The report also warned that the government’s target to resolve all legacy asylum cases by the end of 2023 could lead to more flawed decisions and legal challenges, creating a new backlog in the courts.

The report comes as the government faces pressure to bring thousands of Afghan refugees who have been granted sanctuary in the UK but are stuck in Pakistan hotels to Britain before a deportation deadline imposed by Islamabad.

The government had initially refused to allow Afghans to enter the UK without arranging their own accommodation, but reversed its decision after a legal challenge. The influx of Afghan refugees is expected to add more strain on the already overstretched asylum system.

The PAC chair, Meg Hillier, said: “The Home Office has failed to show it has considered the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable people who have fled war and persecution before forcing them into shared hotel rooms. This is not only unsafe, but an affront to their dignity. The government has also failed to show it has a credible plan to end its reliance on hotels, which are costing taxpayers £8m a week, or to clear the huge backlog of asylum cases, which is causing misery and uncertainty for thousands of people.”

The immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, defended the government’s plan to end the use of hotels for asylum seekers by January 2023. He said the government had created thousands of additional beds by making people share rooms and had increased the number of staff processing asylum applications.

He also said the government was working to bring Afghans who had been granted sanctuary in the UK to Britain as soon as possible.

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“We are determined to fix our broken asylum system and deliver a fair but firm system that protects those in genuine need of refuge, while preventing abuse and illegal entry. We have taken decisive action to reduce our reliance on hotels by creating thousands of additional beds and increasing our operational capacity.

We are also working closely with our international partners to bring Afghans who have been granted sanctuary in the UK to Britain as soon as possible,” he said.

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Birminghamgist Staff is a News Reporter, making waves in the UK with insightful and Engaging reporting.

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