PRESS RELEASE: 10 November 2023: "Horror of daily news from a friend in a Palestinian refugee camp. Why a Manchester mother is marching for peace this weekend"
For more information: Dr Rhetta Moran 07776 264646 Kath Grant 07865 713474
"Horror of daily news from a friend in a Palestinian refugee camp...
"Why a Manchester mother is marching for peace this weekend"
This weekend, on Armistice Day, coachloads of people from Greater Manchester will be joining a huge demonstration in London calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
As a human rights organisation, RAPAR supports this call and many of our members will be travelling to London on Saturday. See RAPAR's statement here.
Our members will be joining people from communities across Greater Manchester and the UK, many of whose lives have been personally touched by the Israeli government's war in Gaza.
One of them is Ann Wilson, a 63 year old mother and grandmother who lives in Manchester. She has worked for a faith-based international NGO, managing volunteers committed to social and global justice.
Ann first visited Palestine in 2015 on a Fairtrade trip. She has returned twice since then to learn more about life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Last year, she spent three months in East Jerusalem monitoring human rights.
In the UK, Ann has raised awareness of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza by joining bike rides highlighting violations of humanitarian law.
Last Sunday, Ann joined 100 others in a cycle ride in Alexandra Park to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, including her friend, a doctor who sends daily news about life in East Jerusalem's Shufat Refugee Camp.
She says that last Sunday, she came home from the cycle ride feeling "sustained and at one" with her fellow cyclists.
"I felt the importance of ‘sticking together’ and realised this was, in part, for fear of possibly being arrested if the home secretary deemed our activity to be a 'hate ride' along with the 'hate marches' taking place weekly.
"I observed no hate whatsoever, only a desire for a peace with justice for all in the Middle East.
"I am not a politician or an academic. I believe in human rights for all and I want my government and all governments to adhere to international law. Last year, I observed practices by the Israeli government indicating this is not the case, and it has not been the case since the occupation began in 1967."
Ann's news from her doctor friend at Shufat Refugee Camp has included scenes of distressed and injured children in Gaza that she finds hard to look at - including graphic images of an unlawful white phosphorous attack on Palestinians.
Her friend tells her the camp in East Jerusalem is raided on a daily basis.
He says the Israeli Defence Force uses rubber bullets, tear gas and skunk water, and so far have arrested 50 young people. Others have been shot. The doctor and his friends are attempting to visit the families of those detained.
"They are also attempting to ensure people have food parcels as food is increasingly difficult to obtain. The camp was closed for five days last year and raided nightly. My doctor friend told me this was the worse situation he had endured. I was puzzled as to why this was the case? He explained that he felt the soldiers had lost their humanity.
"This was shocking and disturbing for him to witness. I spoke to him today and did not ask him how he felt now…I could not bear to hear the answer."
Ann adds: "I am a person of faith and have respect for the faith of the Muslim and Jewish people I know.
"Faith, for me, is about justice and peace and the dignity of each human being.
"My Palestinian friends feel let down by governments. They tell me their hope is in the ordinary people holding governments to account.
"This is why I march, cycle, sign petitions. My actions are not borne out of hate but out of concern for my fellow human beings whatever faith they are or whether they have a faith or not."
PRESS RELEASE: 19th June 2023: CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE ABANDON ATTEMPT TO CRIMINALISE HUNGER STRIKING REFUGEE
“Seeking asylum is not a crime. Neither is exposing human rights abuses nor hunger striking in protest against them.” - Shay Babagar
“It is wrong that they were arrested and faced prosecution for arguing for their right to live without fear.” - Nicky Hall, Solicitor
The Crown Prosecution Service have dropped the case against Shay Babagar, the refugee who went on hunger strike last November to highlight allegations about human rights abuses taking place in Serco run hotels. In May, alongside his wife, Shay pleaded not guilty when the couple appeared at Manchester Magistrates’ Court to face allegations that they refused to leave Stepping Hill Hospital when asked to, an offence for which they were arrested with a trial date set for December this year. Speaking from a house in Manchester, where they are now living with their child pending the outcome of their asylum application, Shay says:
“Seeking asylum is not a crime. Neither is exposing human rights abuses nor hunger striking in protest against them. I hope that all the other people in the hotels take strength from this climbdown by the Criminal Justice system. If we come together, publicise the truth and organise collectively with people inside and allies outside of the asylum system, we can not only resist the current persecution that we are experiencing as people seeking asylum, we can expose it and ultimately stop it. Many issues relating to our treatment at the hands of Greater Manchester Police, Serco staff and hospital managers remain outstanding and we will never give up, not until the truth comes out and we are completely vindicated in our action.”
The family are determined to clear their name and to continue their work with RAPAR and others to expose the truth about the conditions in hotels and end the ‘Hostile Environment’. They are now exploring the best next steps for bringing the right organisations to account for themselves, including Greater Manchester Police who, so far, have not investigated the assault allegations made by the family.
Last November, while they were still hospitalised, the Police said it was not in the public interest to investigate the assault allegations. However, they appear to have changed their mind in April this year when they told Manchester Evening News (MEN): “Greater Manchester Police have confirmed an investigation into a suspected assault on Shay at the hotel where they lived is ongoing, but no arrests have been made.” However, a month later, GMP had confirmed to MEN that the case was closed.
The family’s criminal defence lawyer, Nicky Hall of Robert Lizar Solicitors observes: “Shay and Aisha had required hospital treatment. They did not want to return to those hotel premises where they had been abused. It is wrong that they were arrested and faced prosecution for arguing for their right to live without fear.”
Now Shay’s Family Campaign are planning a public meeting about the human rights violations taking place in hotels on Thursday 7th September 6.30 pm at Friends Meeting House in Manchester.
For more information please contact:
Rhetta Moran 07776264646
Kath Grant 07865713474
8th May 2023. RAPAR PRESS RELEASE: ASYLUM HOTEL HUNGER STRIKER AND WIFE ENTER ‘NOT GUILTY’ PLEAS
o Home Office finally offers accommodation away from Serco sites of alleged abuse and assault but absence of translator creates further miscommunication.
o Family now in contingency hotel where they found insects crawling in one of the beds and a compulsory room search has already happened.
Tony Lloyd, the family’s new MP in Rochdale, says: “Hotels are simply not the right place for families with young children to be housed for months on end. Serco has questions to answer about the basic quality of accommodation, their stewardship of the Home Office contract and dealing with legitimate complaints…” (see full quote below)
The Mum and Dad from Shay’s Family Campaign appeared at Manchester Magistrates’ Court on 27th April 2023. They were charged with a criminal offence and have entered ‘Not Guilty’ pleas. The two day hearing is scheduled for 11th and 12th December 2023 with a case management hearing set for 12th July this year.
It is alleged that, contrary to section 119 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 they did cause without reasonable excuse on NHS premises a nuisance / disturbance [between] … 11th and 22nd November 2022 at Stockport while on National Health Service premises, namely Stepping Hill Hospital , other than for the purpose of obtaining medical advice, treatment or care for yourself[ves], caused, without reasonable excuse a nuisance or disturbance to an National Health Service staff member who was working there or was otherwise there in connection with work and refused without reasonable excuse to leave the premises when asked to do so by a National Health Service staff member.
It was day 20 of Shay’s hunger strike, November 22nd 2022, when he and his wife were discharged as medically fit, immediately arrested and then, after spending six hours in separate cells at Pendleton Police station in Salford, were charged as above.
Following their release on bail, a further six months of legal petitioning via pre-action protocols, public demonstrations and press coverage has highlighted the circumstances of their situation. During this time Mum, Dad and Child have been sheltered in the Stockport community and the Child has continued uninterrupted school attendance.
After emphatic and consistent assertion that they should not be returned to a site of alleged abuse or assault - namely Serco run contingency accommodation - the Home Office, under threat of Judicial Review, finally offered Shay’s family self-contained accommodation on 12th April 2023. This meant that they would not be subject to surveillance by Serco, or unable to control who came into their living space at any time, or what or when they ate. This offer was made on the same day that the Manchester Evening News reported that “GMP [have] confirmed an investigation into a suspected assault on Shay at the hotel where they lived is ongoing, but no arrests have been made.” This information directly contradicts what Stepping Hill Hospital wrote to mum and dad five months previously, on 18th November 2022: “We have been informed that Serco have investigated your concerns, that investigation has been shared with GMP, and GMP have determined that it is not in the public interest for them to investigate.”
However, in the absence of translators on 12th April, miscommunication led the family to believe they were being put into a contingency hotel again and they refused the offer. Despite several attempts to explain that their refusal was a result of miscommunication, no further offer of self-contained accommodation has been forthcoming. Last Friday, in an effort to break through the bureaucracy, the family moved into a Serco run hotel in Rochdale which they describe as having “the same unbearable smell”. Film of insects crawling in their bed in the middle of the night and of their
room being searched by hotel staff has been shared with RAPAR.
Now they are in Rochdale, the family’s MP is Tony Lloyd who says: “Hotels are simply not the right place for families with young children to be housed for months on end. Serco has questions to answer about the basic quality of accommodation, their stewardship of the Home Office contract and dealing with legitimate complaints. Tory Home Office Ministers now accept hotels are not the right place to accommodate asylum seekers but they must raise their game and deliver a much quicker resolution for asylum claims. Hotels are not the answer, not for asylum seekers, not for the community and not for the taxpayer."
RAPAR’s findings about conditions in hotels housing people seeking asylum date back to the summer of 2022. They have recently been further validated by Refugee Action and amplified by Migrant Voice.
Even more recently, on 27th April, Open Democracy carried a report about the Government’s intention to legalise hazardous accommodation by relaxing licensing rules around HMOs for people fleeing danger and in this way “speed up the process of landlords offering up asylum accommodation, without having to wait for an inspection to be completed. It will also make it easier for them to claim public cash for doing so.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT
Rhetta Moran 07776264646
Kath Grant 07865713474
PRESS RELEASE: 21st Feb. 2023: RACIST ATTACKS AND YOUNG PEOPLE MISSING FROM REFUGEE HOTELS ARE RESULT OF UK GOVERNMENT’S LACK OF ACTION SEVEN YEARS AGO
RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research)
21st February 2023
PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Racist attacks and young people missing from refugee hotels are result of UK Government’s lack of action seven years ago
Conservative Party Deputy Chair Lee Anderson’s weekend comments that Calais charities are ‘just as bad as people smugglers’ are disingenuous, divisive and dangerous.
Seven years ago, RAPAR was asked by the leaders of the ‘Calais Jungle’ refugee camp to send an open letter they had composed to Prime Minister David Cameron. This was done but their letter was not even acknowledged. In it, the recognised leaders of the camp proposed the opening up of safe routes into the UK in order to save lives and halt the huge money-making operations of people smugglers. (See text of Open Letter at the end of this press release.)
Since 31st March 2016, when the letter was sent, there have been hundreds of deaths - not just at the Calais border but in lorries and, more recently, small boat tragedies.
Inflammatory comments (Lee Anderson says Calais charities ‘just as bad as people smugglers’ - Independent) encourage current attempts by far right groups to demonise people seeking asylum who have been placed by the Home Office in hotels throughout the UK. The racist and fascist far right are capitalising on the fears and frustrations of UK citizens confronted with a profound housing crisis and spiralling living costs. Together with the current Home Secretary’s incendiary language, it has led to an increasingly dangerous situation as we have recently seen in Knowsley and elsewhere. (Suella Braverman proved it again: racism is a fire the Tories love to play with - Guardian)
On Saturday, RAPAR participated in a large anti racist rally in Liverpool to show support for refugees living in asylum hotels managed by Serco and other ‘for profit’ companies. (See top of this page: Seeking Safety.)
The same day, the Guardian reported that police had focused on North Manchester in their search for missing refugee children who have seemingly been abducted from hotels: Revealed: UK’s missing child refugees put to work for Manchester gangs.
This story quotes police as saying that one young man had been commuting daily from a Warrington asylum accommodation ‘contingency hotel’ to North Manchester. Last summer, in a meeting with police and social services, RAPAR was told by the police representative at the meeting that there was a history of very problematic safeguarding incidents being reported from one of the hotel chains. RAPAR asked why, in the light of that fact, this hotel chain was being used at all inside of the asylum process where, by definition, residents are acutely vulnerable.
The police officer’s observation is reflected in comments made by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper when the scandal of the large number of minors missing from hotels on the south coast was revealed by a whistleblower. She said Greater Manchester Police had warned that children in asylum hotels were being targeted: Yvette Cooper – 2023 Speech on Missing Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking Children
In December, RAPAR profiled a Serco whistleblower who raised serious concerns about the lack of safeguarding training for employees working with vulnerable adults in Warrington, including young men whose ages were disputed and who may have been minors.
For nearly a year, RAPAR has been highlighting profound safeguarding concerns relating to hotels in Manchester and Stockport. This was initially about children not being in school (Refugee pupils with no school places have lessons in Manchester car parks - Guardian) but other safeguarding issues have since come to light.
If the solutions offered by leaders in the Calais refugee camp in 2016 had been heeded, the subsequent deaths, disappearances and exploitation of people seeking safety would have been avoided.
It has never been more vital for the agencies that are supposed to be managing migration in the UK to finally listen to refugees and involve them in finding solutions. Like the overwhelming majority of UK citizens, the people living in hotels have a vested interest in undercutting the racism that is confronting them. Together, practical solutions can and must be found.
Text of OPEN LETTER FROM CALAIS ‘JUNGLE’ CAMP REFUGEES
TO DAVID CAMERON AND THE BRITISH PEOPLE
The representatives of the communities of people living in the Calais refugee camp, the ‘Jungle’, have written an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and the people of Britain.
Entrusted into the hands of RAPAR, this open letter has been sent by recorded delivery today to David Cameron. A photographic image of that letter, and of the registered envelope in which it was sent, are attached to this release.
The letter is signed by camp residents from Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, India, Kuwait, the Kurdish, and Solomon, an individual. These signatures include those leaders now recognised by the French State as representatives of the Refugees. At yesterday’s weekly camp meeting, at which RAPAR was present, Medicins Sans Frontier reported back from their latest meeting with the Pays –de-Calais Cabinet of the Prefecture, Delphine Brard. They confirmed that, to enable direct communication, she is now asking for the names and numbers of the refugee camp leaders.
Dated today, 31st March 2016, the Open Letter says:
Open Letter from the Community Representatives of the Calais ‘Jungle’ Camp to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, and to its people.
From the point of view of the different community representatives in the ‘Jungle’, we see the British Government spending millions of pounds, an enormous amount of money, each year, to secure its borders. But what is happening? The borders aren’t secure. Are you able to stop Refugees from coming to the UK? No. People are going to the UK illegally because the British Government has blocked the legal ways.
The only thing that this use of British taxpayer’s money is doing, is empowering the Traffickers. Please, think about it. There are a minimum of 8000 Refugees in France. For each one, to be guaranteed to reach the UK, it costs around 10 thousand pounds. Per head, this is an enormous amount of money. Where is that money going beyond the Traffickers?
The people staying here in the ’Jungle’ are risking their lives to get to the UK. They are putting themselves in danger, waiting for many months, illegally, and, if they can find the money, spending 8 to 10 thousand pounds to reach Britain. Every month between 5-700 people are reaching the UK from France, illegally. They would not go illegally if you provided them with a legal way. There are thousands of people, waiting here, to go to the UK, legally.
The time has come to find an alternative, a better political solution, for Britain, for France, for Europe: for the people here, and for your borders. We understand that the British Government might be scared about different people coming into the UK that you don’t want. We understand that you might be frightened about terrorists coming to the UK. Therefore an asylum system in place, here in France, here in Calais, where Refugees can apply for asylum in the UK, from here. This is the solution.
Together, work it out with us, the Refugees in Calais.
For more information contact:
Dr Rhetta Moran, RAPAR, 07776264646/ email@example.com
Kath Grant 07865 713474
PRESS RELEASE: 19th Jan. 2023: ELEVEN YEAR OLD CHILD MAY END UP HOMELESS AS SERCO REFUSES TO PROVIDE ALTERNATIVE ASYLUM ACCOMMODATION
- RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research)
19th January 2023
RAPAR PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Eleven year old child may end up homeless as Serco refuses to provide alternative asylum accommodation
For nearly three months, the Home Office's asylum accommodation provider Serco has insisted that a family - including an 11 year old child - returns to one of its "contingency hotels" or remains homeless.
The father, a political refugee from Balochistan, went on a 35 day hunger strike in early November to publicise the plight of hotel residents in asylum hotel accommodation in Stockport.
Serco is demanding that the family return to the hotel accommodation despite reports of serious Safeguarding concerns in at least two North West hotels.
o Asylum seekers: Scabies and abuse at Stockport hotel, council claims - on the BBC
o Asylum seeker on hunger strike against 'inhumane' treatment at Stockport hotel - on ITV News
o RAPAR's June 2022 open letter to Manchester City Council City Solicitor
Stockport Council itself has expressed deep concerns about the hotel in its area and a former Serco employee has raised similarly serious questions about a "contingency hotel" in Warrington:
o Stockport Council and RAPAR speak out about scabies outbreak, rubbish in corridors and "inhumane treatment" in Serco-run asylum hotel - rapar.co.uk
o Press release: 16th Dec. 2022: Whistleblower speaks out about safeguarding, racism and scabies at Serco’s asylum “hotel” in Warrington - rapar.co.uk
So far, neither Serco nor Greater Manchester police have conducted any form of transparent investigation into the allegations of abuse the family has made relating to the hotel in Stockport.
Since late November, rather than return to any Serco managed hotel, the mother and father have been "sofa surfing" while their child has been looked after by a family friend who lives within commuting distance of the child’s school. But that arrangement will end this weekend and the section 17 assessment of the child’s needs, that is currently being carried out by Stockport Council's social services, is still in progress.
The family needs to be together and both Serco and Stockport Council could step in and secure their safety. The question is - will they do this before the whole family ends up with nowhere to live?
In 2019 the government awarded SERCO government contracts worth £1.9 billion – the biggest ever – for managing more than 5000 properties occupied by people seeking asylum Serco Group PLC wins largest ever contract from UK government worth £1.9bn (proactiveinvestors.co.uk
During Covid, the UK government’s demand for immigration services improved Serco’s previous forecasts of sales and profits. In a trading update SERCO said it expects revenues for 2022 of around £4.5 billion with underlying profits to be around £235 million: Serco Group PLC predicts flat 2023 as Covid work comes to an end
That is just £55 million shy of the total budget that Stockport Council was spending in the same year:
Have your say on Stockport Council’s budget proposals for the next financial year - Stockport Council
The family have said they will go into any adequate accommodation as long as it is not a "contingency hotel" and their child can continue going to school. But so far Serco - which also has asylum housing accommodation in the community - has refused to agree to an alternative and the Home Office has not intervened.
How much would it cost to shelter this child and parents safely while proper investigations into the reports of assault and other serious safeguarding allegations take place? Will Stockport Council step in if Serco continues to refuse the family’s request?
Independent Social Worker and RAPAR Trustee, Steve Anderson, says:
“A key feature of this family's plight and flight from ill treatment is that the substantive help to them has come from the voluntary sector which understands the deficiencies or iniquities of the asylum system. The father had to go on hunger strike to highlight the serious Safeguarding issues affecting each member of his family and others. Serco is still to be investigated.
"Pro bono independent legal and medical advice has helped the family, despite Serco and governmental agencies insisting that the family should return to 'contingency' accommodation and potential further ill-treatment.
"Even more worrying is that the family is split up and the local authority, Stockport, has yet to assess under S17 Children Act 1989 to Safeguard the needs of the child who is living separately from the family. The father is now off his hunger strike and, with his partner, they desperately want to care for their child who is settled in school but emotionally suffering from not living with parents in a new country.
"Will Stockport Children's Service provide appropriate accommodation under S17 or does the child have to go into damaging and costly care with costly legal proceedings to follow? Is Stockport Council so limited in its resources due to central government cuts to its budget?
"Which is more humane and less expensive? Compulsory care for a vulnerable 11 year old or suitable accommodation which will allow the child to continue in their current school and thrive within the family. This is a talented young child and a family who would contribute to our society, if they are helped."
For further information contact:
Kath Grant on 07865713474
Dr Rhetta Moran on 07776264646
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
PRESS RELEASE: 16th Dec. 2022: WHISTLEBLOWER SPEAKS OUT ABOUT SAFEGUARDING, RACISM AND SCABIES AT SERCO’S ASYLUM “HOTEL” IN WARRINGTON
RAPAR PRESS RELEASE
For immediate release. Friday, December 16th 2022
For more information, please contact:
Kath Grant 07865 713474 Dr Rhetta Moran 07776 264646
WHISTLEBLOWER SPEAKS OUT ABOUT SAFEGUARDING, RACISM AND SCABIES AT SERCO’S ASYLUM “HOTEL” IN WARRINGTON
“It was not social care, it was more like police work,” she says
A qualified social worker, who spent nearly a year as a housing officer in a Serco managed hotel for newly arrived refugees, says she made the decision to leave because of her serious concerns about a lack of safeguarding and the mistreatment of many of the residents.
Jane worked as a social worker before taking a break for family reasons. Previously, she worked for local authorities and non-profit making organisations but wants to do a “return to practice” and re-registration course next year. She applied for the job in the Warrington hotel (one of three in the town accommodating people in the asylum system) because she saw it as a way of “easing herself back into the social care sector.”
But the hotel she worked in did not operate as social care. “It was more like police work: the staff policed the residents.”
Like all the asylum housing in the North West, the hotel is managed by Serco as part of their contract with the Home Office. Jane’s description of conditions at the hotel and treatment of residents more than supports the reports RAPAR has received about similar conditions and mistreatment in hotels in Stockport and Manchester.
The Warrington hotel is owned by a businessman in the Midlands who has a contract with Serco and the Home Office.
Jane says: “I think it was purely an investment and he bought it at the start of the pandemic.” She was told that he had “influential connections” but is not sure what that means.
One of the problems is the way the staff are recruited, she says. This is done through the Berkeley Scott agency “a leading provider of recruitment solutions for Hotels, Catering and Support Services.”
“They have no experience in social care but all staff, even housing officers, were recruited through them. Most of the staff are not trained in social care, they have worked in hotels and other jobs but have no idea about procedures relating to safeguarding, for example.”
She refers to health concerns which are mirrored in the Stockport hotel where the local authority had to step in to arrange treatment for a scabies outbreak.
“I don’t think there was a time when the hotel I worked in was free from scabies. It is highly contagious but should clear up with proper treatment.
“The problem is that deep cleaning is not being done properly and bedding and towels are not being changed daily. People share rooms and possibly towels so it can easily spread.
“One person had been diagnosed with scabies by a GP and I said his towels and bedding should be changed every day. Another member of staff stopped that and said it did not need to be done because the resident had eczema not scabies. He was not medically qualified and was over-ruling a GP’s diagnosis.”
No consideration was given to appropriate diets for people with health conditions. “GPs advise people on the kind of food they should be eating but staff do not take this into account.” This sometimes led to people becoming very hungry. Jane describes one occasion when there was food left over at breakfast, a resident took a third egg and was told to put it back.
She outlines serious safety worries, racist language and behaviour, and mistreatment of the residents. She used the complaints channel within Serco – “Speak Up Serco” - to report these concerns, including two racist incidents, but received no proper feedback and said it was like “reporting Serco to Serco.”
Two members of staff were convicted sex offenders and they both left the hotel. Jane says one of them only left after his DBS check came through but he had already been working at the hotel for five or six months.
“There were a lot of vulnerable people living there, including young men whose ages were disputed by the Home Office. A couple of them were moved in the end so they were minors.” She points out that some staff worked night shifts at other hotels housing women and children.
DBS checks were the responsibility of Berkeley Scott, Jane says. “I was working there for some months before my DBS came through. I told them I had worked in social care but I could have been anybody. I asked Serco if they wanted to see copies of my social work degree certificate and two references but they said they didn’t need to do that. I did take in my certificate though.”
She left because she could not work in the kind of environment where residents were often mistreated and racism and safety concerns were ignored. “I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was given the option of going to another hotel but refused.”
She reported a racist comment made by one member of staff. It was supposed to have been investigated by Serco and the person concerned was taken off the rota temporarily.
“The treatment of residents was appalling. Staff spoke to them in a harsh and dismissive way.
“While you can’t rule out human error in some cases, people have been left sleeping outside with staff refusing to let them back into the hotel. That happened on more than one occasion.”
Residents were allowed to stay away for three nights but, if they stayed away for longer, they were not allowed back into the hotel and told they would lose their place.
“It was a kind of punishment. They weren’t allowed back inside – not to go to the toilet or anything. But they felt safer sleeping in the grounds of the hotel rather than out on the streets.”
Jane said one man had been at the mosque during Ramadan but was refused entry because he had stayed away too long,
“He was an older man, a lecturer and very religious. It wasn’t as if he had been gallivanting round the town, he had been at the mosque.
“I couldn’t believe it and neither could the taxi driver the mosque had asked to bring him back to the hotel. It really opened his eyes.” Jane said the man rang Migrant Help but the taxi driver complained about the poor quality of translation from the interpreter and he took the man back to the mosque that night.
Jane cited examples of other men who were adamant they had not stayed outside the hotel for more than three nights. But they were refused entry and staff signposted them to the police.
“The police can’t do anything because people who are living in the hotels have no recourse to public funds and, in any case, they are often petrified of the police because of what they have experienced in their home countries.”
She remembers at least one occasion someone was refused entry when there was no proper record of when he had left and returned to the hotel.
Jane says complaining to Migrant Help, the charity which is supposed to report issues about asylum accommodation to the Home Office, is a “complete waste of time.”
She was told staff had been in residents’ rooms while they were not there and had gone through their belongings. She said it was “common practice” for staff to go through drawers when residents were not in the rooms.
One young man told her the Home Office had not returned his bag which contained important documents. Jane asked Serco managers if they could check with the Home Office but they were “not interested.”
“This was not just a bag, it was his whole life. It contained photos and information about his family, and notes from his university degree course which he hoped to pursue once he had leave to remain.
“He had walked half way across Europe to claim asylum and the documents were his only link with his family. He also needed them as evidence for his case. No-one cared, they did not try to find out what had happened to the bag. There is a real imbalance of power.”
Jane also challenged a colleague about residents being denied taxis when they had hospital appointments. The rule was that, if the hospital was more than three miles from the hotel, transport could be arranged – otherwise they had to walk.
“This member of staff said it was 2.9 miles to the hospital and, when I pointed out that on Google it showed up as 3.1 miles, she said she wasn’t ordering a taxi for point 1 of a mile. But I insisted.
“Before then, people were expected to walk. Apart from anything else, a six-mile round trip is a long way if you’re ill enough to need hospital appointments.”
There was not adequate cultural and religious awareness. On one occasion the caterers, who had a separate contract, were furious when a member of the Serco staff used the kitchen and utensils inappropriately.
“The Serco staff weren’t properly trained, they had no idea how to behave when they were working with people from different cultures and religions.
“They spoke in a rude manner to people who had been tortured and traumatised. There were so many incidents with residents saying they wanted to kill themselves. I have witnessed staff screaming at people, speaking to them harshly and dismissively.”
Jane said a resident wanted to take out a complaint against two members of Serco staff. “I had worked for local authorities where you would always go through the complaints procedure - but I advised him not to bother because it would be a waste of time and I was concerned there might be repercussions.
“The staff make a note on the files of people who make complaints and residents worry that it will be reported to the Home Office.
“I knew I had to leave when I had become so deeply affected myself, through witnessing safeguarding breaches, racism, bullying, lack of health care, that I was advising residents not to use their right to make a complaint.”
She can cite a list of repairs which were waiting to be done and had not been carried out when she left, including broken fire doors.
When Jane did her induction training at another Warrington hotel, she and others were told by Serco staff that the company was heavily fined by the Home Office if a resident who had been moved to other accommodation was still on Serco’s system.
“They quoted massive figures – and Serco had paid these huge fines so that’s an indication of how much the contract with the Home Office is worth. But I would not be surprised if people had remained on the system because the hotel staff don’t keep proper records of people coming in and going out.”
Jane describes the hotel as: “A very depressing environment, very run down. A mess from top to bottom really.
“They can’t get the staff and more residents are being placed there, they just do not have the staff to manage it properly. It is not fit for vulnerable people. Clothes are not adequate and residents are often going outside in flip flops and without coats.”
She says flip flops are issued to all hotel residents by the Home Office and adds: “You would think they could at least give them some basic trainers!”
Jane was inspired to speak out by the courage RAPAR member Shay Babagar and other residents have shown in their attempts to expose what is happening at the Serco managed contingency hotels. “I am really surprised other former staff have not come forward. We knew it was similar in other hotels. Shay has shown great courage in speaking out yet Serco is denying what is being said.
“Perhaps, together, we can show what is really happening.”
Seeking Safety, Looking for Justice: our campaign.
PRESS RELEASE: 28th Nov. 2022: REFUGEE ON HUNGER STRIKE SPEAKS OUT ABOUT ABUSE AND CONDITIONS AT A SERCO MANAGED HOTEL IN STOCKPORT
Join the Zoom tomorrow Tuesday the 29th. Hunger striker to speak out about Serco hotels and arrest by police
"Hasan" will describe how he and his wife were arrested by Greater Manchester Police, forcibly removed from the hospital and kept in police cells before being taken to another Serco managed hotel in Warrington.
He will discuss his protest and treatment during a media update on Zoom at 10am on Tuesday 29th November. It will be the 27th day of his hunger strike.
Anyone who wishes to join the Press Conference should email email@example.com and ask for the Zoom link.
A man who has now been on hunger strike for nearly a month, protesting about residents' treatment and conditions at a Serco managed hotel in Stockport, will meet journalists and politicians at a Zoom press conference at 10am on Tuesday, 29th November.
He will discuss why he took such drastic action to highlight the conditions he and many other people seeking asylum are enduring in Serco hotel accommodation throughout the North West. He will also discuss how he and his wife were arrested, taken from hospital and kept isolated in separate police cells before being taken to Warrington where they ended up outside in the cold and rain in the early hours of the morning.
In shocking scenes last week, witnessed by human rights volunteers, hospital staff and patients, "Hassan" and his wife, who has type 1 diabetes, were arrested and forcibly removed from their beds by Greater Manchester Police officers before being taken to a Salford police station where they were kept in separate cells for over six hours. The couple believe Serco staff were present when they were arrested.
At 10pm that night, they were taken to a Serco managed hotel in Warrington, despite "Hassan" having made clear that one of the conditions of stopping his hunger strike was that they should not be housed in any Serco "contingency" hotel accommodation following reports of ill-treatment by staff. They were too afraid to go to their room at the Warrington hotel because of what they had previously experienced in Stockport and asked if they could wait in the reception area for the night. Hotel staff refused to allow them to do this and they waited outside until an ambulance arrived after they called the emergency services.
Conditions at the Stockport, Warrington and other similar "contingency" hotels, where people seeking asylum are housed while they wait for their main Home Office interviews, have been highlighted by RAPAR and others. Stockport council said it shared RAPAR's concerns about the Serco managed hotel where an outbreak of scabies was only contained after an intervention by the local authority.
Attempts by residents to report health issues, verbal abuse, and nutritional concerns to Migrant Help, the charity which is supposed to relay residents' concerns to Serco, frequently came to nothing because it regularly takes hours to get through to the number provided. This problem has been reported throughout the UK.
It was the hopelessness of the situation and his belief that no-one was listening which led to "Hassan" starting a hunger strike on November 2nd.
He was taken to hospital two days later after collapsing at the hotel.
RAPAR became aware of his hunger strike on November 5th, the day after he was admitted to hospital. We are now working with others to find temporary accommodation where "Hassan" and his wife feel safe.
Anyone who wishes to join the Press Conference on zoom 10am on Tuesday November 29th should email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the Zoom link.
For further details:
Dr Rhetta Moran 07776 264646
Kath Grant email@example.com 07865 71347
PRESS RELEASE: 14th Nov. 2022: RESIDENT OF HOTEL HOUSING PEOPLE SEEKING ASYLUM IS ON 12th DAY OF A HUNGER STRIKE
RESIDENT OF HOTEL HOUSING PEOPLE SEEKING ASYLUM IS ON 12th DAY OF A HUNGER STRIKE
HE IS PROTESTING ABOUT CONDITIONS AND TREATMENT AT THE SERCO MANAGED ACCOMMODATION IN STOCKPORT
A man who has been living with his family at a Serco managed hotel in Stockport - which has been the subject of widespread complaints - has now been on hunger strike for 12 days, protesting about conditions at the hotel and the way Serco staff treat residents.
RAPAR sent an Open Letter to Stockport council, and the town's four MPs, after being told that Serco were not responding to residents' safeguarding and health and safety complaints. Stockport council said they shared RAPAR's concerns (see press release from 10th Nov. immediately below).
Attempts by residents to reach Migrant Help, the organisation tasked by the Home Office with relaying residents' complaints to Serco, are frequently unsuccessful and many people have given up trying. This is a UK wide problem which is not being properly acknowledged by the Home Office or Serco. (On the Guardian: ‘It just rings and rings’: Home Office helpline for asylum seekers rated inadequate)
The hopelessness of the situation and his belief that no-one was listening led one man to start a hunger strike on November 2nd. He was taken to hospital two days later after collapsing at the hotel.
RAPAR became aware of his hunger strike on November 5th, the day after he was admitted to hospital and, since then, we have been liaising with hospital staff, social workers, and medical and legal professionals. His wife, who has type 1 diabetes, has been in the same hospital since the end of October and their daughter is currently living with a family friend.
During the last week, RAPAR has become increasingly concerned about the man's health. He was given fluids through a drip but this was disconnected and he has had no fluids since the drip was removed on Friday, November 10th. If this continues, it is likely to have serious consequences for his health.
He has been told he will be returned to the hotel but both he and his wife are frightened of going back because of the abuse they say they were subjected to in the past, and RAPAR has asked Stockport council and local MPs to assist with finding alternative and safe accommodation.
He is willing to take fluids intravenously but, at the moment, the drip remains disconnected and RAPAR has grave fears for his health.
His conditions for stopping the hunger strike include the introduction of a secure and efficient mechanism for all hotel residents to report complaints and concerns. But he is also asking for the immediate cessation of any attempts by the hospital staff to return him or his wife to the hotel. He says there should be no further interaction with him or his wife about leaving the hospital unless an appropriate interpreter and a RAPAR advocate are present.
Last week, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal said housing people seeking asylum in hotels is "grim" and urged the Home Office to speed up the decision making process so people can begin to rebuild their lives. (On the Metro: Keeping asylum seekers in hotels is 'grim', says inspector)
Dr Rhetta Moran of RAPAR said: “The Government’s ‘hostile environment’ is attempting to distract us from the many profound crises we face in housing, the cost of living, the health service etc. These crises have been manufactured through the systematic privatisation and underfunding of public services and housing and naked profiteering by a tiny minority. Their attempts to ferment xenophobia and make refugees the scapegoats is simply the latest version of divide and rule.
"At the same time as Government policies deny people seeking asylum their right to work legally, its Home Office pays the private firm Serco to ‘house and look after’ people in the asylum system. The job they have done so far is so terrible that our member has felt compelled to hunger strike. His actions are intended to demonstrate, beyond any doubt, the depth of his family’s experience of inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of this Government appointed firm, and the utter uselessness of the complaints mechanisms that are supposed to address its failings. He must not be returned to that hotel. It is unsafe."
For more information please contact:
Dr Rhetta Moran 07776 264646
Kath Grant 07865 713474
PRESS RELEASE: 10th Nov. 2022: STOCKPORT COUNCIL SHARES RAPAR’S CONCERNS ABOUT HOTEL PROVIDING ACCOMMODATION FOR PEOPLE SEEKING ASYLUM
Stockport council has confirmed that it shares many of the concerns RAPAR raised last week about the Serco managed hotel that provides accommodation for people seeking asylum.
RAPAR sent an open letter to council leader Mark Hunter and all four Stockport MPs about a number of issues, including an outbreak of Scabies, safeguarding fears, reported abuse from Serco staff, and insufficient and inappropriate food (see open letter here).
Serco dismissed RAPAR’s anxieties, saying: “The allegations made by RAPAR are incorrect.” They claimed there were no cases of scabies, that a balanced and nutritious menu was provided, and denied that their staff treated residents with disrespect.
However, a spokeswoman for the Stockport council leader said they share RAPAR’s concerns about conditions in the hotel “where the inadequate management arrangements and resettlement planning continue to cause extremely negative consequences.”
Cllr Hunter’s office agrees that appropriate preventative arrangements are not in place at the hotel and that the model, which is designed for a high turnover, is not working.
“The asylum seekers and Stockport residents are suffering. Asylum seekers have been cooped up in a hotel for months and this inhumane treatment acts as a Petri dish for mental health issues in a cohort that are already vulnerable,” says the council leader’s statement.
Cllr Hunter adds: “We are aware that there is an outbreak of Scabies and it is because of the arrangements we have put in place that individuals are receiving treatment.”
The council leader says the authority has worked extremely hard to persuade Serco to provide more nutritional and appetising food, especially for children, by suggesting menus, supporting hotel users to provide feedback, and putting the hotel in touch with other locations where food is being managed more successfully.
“Many of the issues you have raised are those we have sought to address and progress on a regular basis with Serco and Home Office colleagues. However, there is a limit to our influence as this is a contract between the hotel and Serco on behalf of the Home Office.
“Stockport is a welcoming and inclusive borough and we are proud of how community, voluntary agencies and public sector have provided warm support to Asylum Seekers, Afghan Evacuees and Ukrainians over the past year or so.”
RAPAR had supplied photographs which showed bags of rubbish dumped in corridors and stairwells and the council leader has asked environmental health officers to visit the hotel again and review the arrangements, particularly food and hygiene. “Please be reassured we will take enforcement action if there are failings that we are empowered to act upon.”
The council leader’s statement also revealed that he wrote to the previous Home Secretary “to outline our serious concerns regarding the arrangements in place for temporary and permanent settlement of various communities within Stockport.”
He says it was the second time the council had written since the hotel was first utilised for refugees and adds: “I am afraid we have not witnessed an improvement in the conditions that asylum seekers are being housed, nor received additional funding to help the voluntary and public sector provide much needed support.”
For more information, please contact:
Dr Rhetta Moran 07776 264646
Kath Grant 07865 713474
RAPAR'S OPEN LETTER TO COUNCIL LEADER MARK HUNTER AND GREATER MANCHESTER MAYOR ANDY BURNHAM
Refugees living in a Serco managed hotel in Stockport have raised serious safeguarding and health concerns that remain unaddressed despite numerous complaints.
RAPAR has written an open letter to Stockport council leader Mark Hunter, senior council officers and cabinet members, to draw their attention to the unsafe and unhygienic conditions at the hotel and the violation of people's rights. The letter has also been sent to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the four Stockport MPs.
The disclosure follows concerns about a similar Serco managed hotel in Manchester and recent hard-hitting criticism from the Chief Inspector of Prisons about escalating problems at the Manston short-term holding centre in Kent.
"This is a UK wide issue," says RAPAR founder Dr Rhetta Moran. "Vulnerable people, for whom raising these concerns has involved great courage, have done so out of a real desire to improve things for everyone at the hotel."
The hotel has had cases of scabies with residents living in permanent anxiety about acquiring it, and other skin complaints have been reported. Rubbish is left to pile up in stairwells and corridors and includes medical waste hazards. Residents say it is also a fire hazard but their suggestions about handling waste have been ignored.
Transport help for essential hospital appointments has been refused, including for a child with mobility challenges. Requests for interpreters have not been followed up.
Some children are not in school and this situation has not been helped by the withdrawal of school transport. Food quality is poor, unhygienic and frequently inedible. People with medical conditions are given inappropriate diets. Yet residents are banned from cooking in their rooms and the £8 per person they receive each week is not enough to cover take-outs.
Children are able to leave the building without supervision, and there have been instances of non hotel residents entering the building and posing security risks. Serco staff walk into residents' rooms without permission and sometimes without knocking. There have been reports of Serco staff shouting at children, showing disrespect towards women, and ridiculing residents who have mental health issues.
Complaints about these violations have been made to Migrant Help, which Serco and the Home Office say is the correct procedure, but nothing has been done.
Serco manages the hotel on behalf of the Home Office. Along with similar hotels throughout the UK, it is meant to be temporary accommodation while people wait for their asylum claims to be processed. But families and individuals often end up living there for long periods of time so Safeguarding and Education are the responsibility of the local authority which covers the location of the hotels.
Dr Moran adds: "Calls are mounting for the removal of the latest Home Secretary. She is the Government representative with ultimate responsibility for the safeguarding of so many people who are being 'looked after' by the State, including the people seeking asylum in the UK's processing and detention centres, dispersal hotels and houses in the communities.
"Racists love her language. It dehumanises, stokes scapegoat fires, and tries to distract our attention away from the real 'invasion' - by multinational capital. It isn't the 'refugees' or the cost of 'living' that is creating our current crisis, including the gross hotel conditions described by our members. It is the cost of 'corporate greed' that is embodied in organisations like Serco."
For more information, see the RAPAR updates section of the website.
Or contact Dr Rhetta Moran 07776 264646
Kath Grant 07865 713474