Demonstration of solidarity for Shay's family: Thursday, 27th April, 9.15am, steps of Manchester Magistrates Court
On 12th April, the Home Office subcontractor Migrant Help finally offered the family emergency accommodation in a flat in Liverpool on the same day that the MEN carried this report.
The family’s acceptance of this offer was witnessed by both Stockport Social Services staff and RAPAR members.
A few hours later though, the Home Office subcontractor arranged for the family to be taken instead to a Manchester City Centre hotel location. Believing that they were being returned to a Serco run contingency hotel where they would, once again, be subject to 24/7 surveillance by Serco, being unable to control who came into their living space at any time, or what or when they ate, the family refused to register at the hotel and, once again, a Stockport resident stepped in to shelter them.
It took another a week to get to the bottom of this miscommunication between different parts of the Home Office sub-contractor system that had led to this last-minute change of offer and its subsequent rejection by the family. In the meantime, Migrant Voice’s report into hotels secured national coverage further confirming what RAPAR has been reporting since the summer of 2022 and what Refugee Action had also found in their report published last month.
Then last Friday, when the family were finally able to speak with Migrant Help again, they were repeatedly assured that, once again, they would be offered emergency accommodation and not a hotel room. In fact, they were taken to Serco’s Britannia Hotel in Didsbury. This is the exact hotel where RAPAR first exposed human rights violations that date back to the spring of 2022. Further, as the family were in the reception area in Didsbury one of the Serco staff directly implicated in their allegations of abuse and assault at the Stockport Hotel actually phoned through to the reception to confirm that they were there, further traumatising the family and triggering flashbacks. Once again the family returned to the Stockport resident sheltering them.
From this coming Thursday, 27th April, their current shelter will no longer be available for them and, on the same day, they must present at Manchester Magistrates Court at 9.30 am, to plead before a District Judge. This follows their being arrested and charged upon discharge from Stepping Hill hospital last November.
On 18th November 2022, Stepping Hill Hospital wrote to mum and dad stating that “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”. So far, when the Home Office, the Hospital and Social Services have attempted to justify their actions, they have often referred to the fact that there is no ongoing investigation into allegations of assault and abuse. However, on 12th April, the MEN reported that “GMP confirmed an investigation into a suspected assault on Shay at the hotel where they lived is ongoing, but no arrests have been made.”
RAPAR is calling for a short demonstration of solidarity with this family before they enter to plead before a District Judge. Come along and please send messages of support to email@example.com.
Thursday, 27th April, steps of Manchester Magistrates Court, 09.15 Manchester Magistrates Court:, Manchester, M60 1PR
On the 12th of April, the MEN (Manchester Evening News) reported the UK Home Office's failure to safely house Shay Babagar and his family.
Shay and his family came to Greater Manchester last year after fleeing Pakistan where the 35-year-old human rights activist was involved in political groups fighting for the freedom of the occupied Balochistan region. Shay believes that he and his family's lives would be in danger if they were returned to Pakistan.
The MEN describes the abuse and inhumane conditions that Shay's family experienced in a Serco-run hotel in Stockport, Greater Manchester and their difficulties in securing safe accommodation through the Home Office. The Home Office has a statutory responsibility to house people seeking asylum. At the moment, the Home Office has contracted several private companies in England to provide accommodation in 'contingency hotels'. Shay went on hunger strike in November to highlight the conditions that people seeking asylum faced at hotels. Allegations of assault at the hotel where Shay's family were housed were reported to the police while he was in hospital, while RAPAR has for many months been challenging the conditions in these hotels in Manchester following several 'resident' reports of abuse and substandard living conditions. (See here and here.)
The MEN reports:
A refugee father and his family have been left 'homeless' following allegations he was assaulted at a hotel housing asylum seekers. Shay Babagar, his wife and daughter have been sofa surfing since leaving the hotel in November. The family refuse to return to an asylum seeker hotel.
Protesters stormed Stockport council offices on Tuesday (April 11), demanding the family is housed immediately. The local authority says it is bound by laws requiring the Home Office provides asylum seekers accommodation.
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. Serco, which manages the hotel, 'completely refutes' the allegations.
The human rights activist went on hunger strike in November to highlight the alleged conditions asylum seekers are facing at hotels. Allegations of assault at the hotel where Shay's family were housed were reported to the police while he was in hospital.
Legal proceedings relating to the suitability of the contingency accommodation offered to Shay’s family are under way, but a judicial review has not yet been lodged.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Migrant Help UK offered new accommodation for the family in Liverpool following the protest with help from the Home Office and Stockport council staff. But campaigners say the family was taken to a hotel in Manchester, which they refused to enter.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "As required by law, we provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with free, fully furnished accommodation, three meals a day and a weekly allowance. This applies from their point of arrival in the UK. We do not comment on individual cases."
Read the rest of the piece on MEN here. And see RAPAR's recent post on Migrant Voice's report on hotel conditions in England.
Migrant Voice, a London-based charity organisation working with migrants and undocumented people, and RAPAR's partner organisation, released a report at the end of April that set out, in detail, utilising the testimonies of 170 'residents', the inhumane conditions inside Home Office 'continency hotels'. The report was featured in the Guardian newspaper on the 22nd of April:
Asylum seekers have been forced to live for a year in windowless rooms smaller than prison cells, served food so dire it is blamed for causing diabetes, and have spent days in their underwear because they only have one change of clothes.
These are the shocking conditions laid bare this weekend in a comprehensive report from the charity Migrant Voice, which took testimony from 170 asylum seekers staying in London hotels that are supposed to serve as short-term accommodation.
The charity has chronicled repeated accounts of overcrowding, “filthy rooms”, abusive and obstructive staff and “dangerously erratic” healthcare.
The immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, recently told MPs that these hotels were “luxurious”.
More than 50,000 asylum seekers are being housed in nearly 400 hotels at a cost of more than £6m a day, with the Home Office struggling to reduce a record backlog of cases.
Although the research gives only a snapshot of conditions inside this huge asylum hotel network, it is one of the most comprehensive insights available into the experiences of its residents. (Read the rest of the piece.)
RAPAR's campaign Serco must go! (Serco is the Home Office contractor charged with providing asylum accommodation in the Northwest) has been established for several years. Most notably as part of this work, RAPAR has led a campaign alongside Shay Babagar and his family to challenge conditions and treatment in Serco-run hotels in Manchester. Shay's family reported significant abuses and inhumane treatment inside Serco hotels, and RAPAR and the family have been working together to ensure safety and rights for Shay and his wife and child, and all other residents of contingency hotels in the UK.
The report from Migrant Voice echoes and confirms RAPAR's ongoing concerns about and challenges to conditions in asylum hotels. Speaking with the Guardian, Dr Rhetta Moran from RAPAR said: “People are not only dissuaded from registering complaints, they are also threatened that notes will be put on to their asylum applications with the Home Office if they register complaints.”
Migrant Voice's and RAPAR's work to challenge conditions and treatment in Serco-run hotels, and hotels run by other private companies, continues. The Guardian's piece ends with a response from a Home Office spokesperson claiming safety (and safe-guarding) and high standards in hotels (claims that RAPAR has consistently disproven).
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the safety and welfare of those in our care extremely seriously. We have safeguarding procedures to ensure those in hotels are as safe and supported as possible, ensuring that accusations are investigated.
“We expect high standards from all of our providers, and any asylum seekers who have problems with their accommodation can contact Migrant Help, 24/7, every day of the year.” (Guardian, 22nd April).
You can read the full report from Migrant Voice on their site: "No rest. No security" - Report into the experiences of asylum seekers in hotels (summary also available).
Yvette Cooper speaks out about missing children and Home Office negligence in contingency 'asylum' hotels
Last night (24th Jan.), Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford & Knottingley, posted a tweet exposing the UK Home Office's negligence in safeguarding children in asylum contingency 'hotels'.
Cooper said that 1 in 4 children in one Home Office-funded hotel have gone missing, that half of them are still missing, and that the UK Government is failing to act.
For many months, RAPAR has been calling for change to the Home Office's accommodation of people seeking asylum in the UK.
In early 2022, RAPAR uncovered and reported neglect and safeguarding concerns in a Serco-run hotel in Manchester when we found that the children there were not registered in school and were being taught by other residents and volunteers in the carpark of the hotel: Refugee pupils with no school places have lessons in Manchester car parks (Guardian, 8th April. 2022)
Later in 2022, we learned about significant safe-guarding concerns in another Serco-run contingency hotel in Stockport, and at the time wrote an open letter to the leader of Stockport Council. Shortly after that, we issued a press release setting out the concerns of the residents of the hotel and a further press release when Stockport Council told us that they shared our concerns about the hotel.
RAPAR has been working particularly closely with a man named Shay Babagar, a former resident of the Stockport hotel, who went on hunger strike for 35 days to protest against the conditions in the hotel to which his wife and child were subjected. Further information on our 'Seeking Justice' campaign is here.
The issues in the Stockport hotel, and Shay's hunger strike, have received significant media attention:
And last month, RAPAR issued a press release (16th Dec. 2022) when a whistle-blower and former Serco employee came to us to speak out about safeguarding, racism and scabies at another Serco asylum hotel in Warrington, citing staff's lack of DBS checks and understanding of safeguarding procedures, and their mistreatment of residents.
The safe-guarding issues and Home Office negligence to which Cooper refers are systemic and longstanding, throughout Home-Office contingency hotels - just this weekend past, the Guardian revealed that 'Scores of child asylum seekers kidnapped from Home Office hotel.
Nonetheless, the inhuman treatment of 1000s of people seeking refuge, and the kidnapping and disappearance of 100s of children in the hotels, remain ignored by the Home Office and denied by the for-profit companies that run the hotels. At the same time, as the Independent revealed today, persistent, egregious delays in the asylum processing system mean that families seeking asylum are forced to life in these unsafe conditions for indefinite periods (Independent 25th Jan. Thousands of asylum seekers living in hotels cannot be told refugee status).
It is vital that, immediately, hotel residents throughout n the UK are invited to participate in developing effective methods for keeping themselves and their families safe: people seeking asylum did not create these unsafe conditions and have every motivation to be part of the solution.
From the 2015 moment when the Mighty Mark George KC became a RAPAR Patron - to our delight and gratitude - he responded swiftly, cutting straight to the chase, whenever we reached out for his help. His unique combination of unbridled passion for confronting injustice, analytical precision, and outrageous wit, created a tremendous force for good.
At this time, we send all of the very best of our wishes to Mark’s family.
A note from Mark's son, Tom George, on his passing,
A twitter thread from his family.
And Mark's last tweet on the 15th Dec. 2022.
'Hasan', who revealed in a press conference yesterday, the 29th of November, that his real name is Shay Babagar, joined a zoom with journalists to tell them first-hand about his family's experiences at a Serco-run contingency hotel in Stockport, Greater Manchester. Mr Babagar is seeking political asylum in the UK after fleeing Pakistan where he was involved in political activity.
During the hour-long conversation, held in the RAPAR offices as Mr Babagar and his wife and 'sofa-surfing' with friends of RAPAR, and with the help of an interpreter, Shay described the residents' treatment and conditions at the hotel and explained why he took the drastic action of going on hunger strike.
Following the press conference, Mr Babagar's story has featured on the front page of the Morning Star (30th Nov. edition) and on the BBC's North West evening news (29th Nov.).
The piece on the Morning Star - Refugee on 28th day of hunger strike accuses Serco of 'inhuman and degrading treatment' of asylum-seekers - begins:
A refugee on the 28th day of a hunger strike has demanded an end to the “inhuman and degrading treatment” of asylum-seekers in hotels run by disgraced security firm Serco. Backed by a campaigning refugee support group in Manchester, Shay Babagar told an online media conference today that residents suffered poor hygiene, infections, lack of basic toiletries, inadequate food and abuse by staff.
He said he went on hunger strike in desperation on November 2 after complaints were ignored — and will end it only if his demands for change are met. He said: “I am seeking to end, or at least reduce, the harm caused to my family by the inhuman and degrading treatment to which we and others have been subjected by Serco.”
He also said that after he was hospitalised due to the effects of the hunger strike both he and his wife, who suffers Type 1 diabetes, were arrested in their hospital beds by Greater Manchester Police.
He is currently “sofa surfing” in Manchester at the homes of volunteers from the group backing his demands for action, Rapar (Refugee and Asylum-Seeker Participatory Action Research). Mr Babagar is seeking political asylum after fleeing Pakistan where he was involved in political activity. Read the full piece on the Morning Star.
Mr Babagar's story also feature on BBC Northwest's evening news, and you can view the segment here. (We will add a link to the full piece on the BBC website when we have it.)
ITV has reported that in the ongoing and egregious dereliction of duties by the bosses of several state-funded bodies, the person seeking asylum who is on the 21st day of his hunger strike to protest against the 'inhumane' conditions in a Serco-run asylum hotel in Stockport, and his wife who suffers from ill-health, were forced to sleep outside another Serco-run hotel last night after being 'forcibly removed from hospital'.
An asylum seeker on his 21st day of a hunger strike was forced to spend the night outside a hotel in near-freezing temperatures until emergency services were called, it has been claimed.
"Hasan", not his real name, is on hunger strike in protest against what he calls "inhumane" and "degrading" conditions and mistreatment by staff at a Serco-run hotel in Stockport.
He was taken to hospital at the beginning of November as his health deteriorated during his hunger strike.
After two weeks he claims he was then forcibly discharged and taken by police to another Serco-run hotel in Warrington.
Speaking exclusively to ITV News, Hasan said he and his wife, who has diabetes, "spent hours" at a Greater Manchester Police station before they were taken to another Serco-run hotel in Warrington.
Hasan said his pre-existing serious concerns with Serco accommodation in Stockport meant he was dismayed at being taken to a Warrington hotel run by the company.
In a message sent to ITV News from outside the hotel on Tuesday, 22 November, night he said: "Me and my wife are sitting outside in the open sky in this cold weather.
"We are sitting outside because so many times Serco staff have abused us. We are trying to get justice but we have not got justice. "We refuse to stay in any Serco contingency hotel."
Read the full report here.
RAPAR has been working with 'Hasan' and his wife to secure their rights - find out more here.
On ITV: Person seeking asylum on hunger strike against 'inhumane' hotel treatment speaks publicly for first time
On the 17th of November, ITV published an interview with the person who is on hunger strike to protest against the 'inhumane' treatment at Serco-run hotel in Stockport.
Link to ITV page.
The piece begins:
An asylum seeker has now gone fifteen days without food as part of a hunger strike against what he calls "inhumane and degrading" treatment by Home Office-contracted staff at a Stockport hotel.
Hasan, whose name we have changed, was housed in the hotel - which is run by contractor Serco - by the Home Office. He is one of over 100 asylum seekers at the hotel who are waiting for their asylum claims to be processed.
Hasan's condition deteriorated following his hunger strike, and he was taken to hospital. Speaking for the first time, he sent ITV News a video from his hospital bed - via the Manchester charity RAPAR - where he said he felt forced to take action. "I am seeking to end, or at least reduce, the harm caused to my family by the inhumane and degrading treatment to which we and others have been subjected by Serco", he said.
"In pursuit of those reasonable aims, I am on hunger strike, accepting only fluids, electrolytes and vitamins, as recommended by my doctors", he added.
Hasan wants his family are rehoused in "reasonable conditions" and has also called for hotel residents' complaints to be resolved.
"We residents must not be subjected to any form of retribution if we raise complaints", he added.
Serco strongly rejects the allegations.
On the same piece, ITV published an interview with a teenager seeking asylum, also housed at the Stockport hotel, who said that living there feels like an 'open prison', and an interview with RAPAR's Dr Rhetta Moran who criticised the "hostile environment" for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Dr Moran urged people and government not to make refugees scapegoats, and said: "These are people who have been through some of the most awful conditions. We must not be drawn into the latest attempts to divide and rule."
Full piece here.
On the BBC: Stockport Council and RAPAR speak out about scabies outbreak, rubbish in corridors and "inhumane treatment" in Serco-run asylum hotel
The BBC have featured RAPAR's exposé about the degrading and inhuman conditions in a Serco-run asylum hotel in Greater Manchester.
Serco have denied all the allegations. However, in a press release that RAPAR issued this week, we reported that Stockport Council shared RAPAR's grave concerns about the conditions in the hotel:
A spokesperson 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.
See the full press release here.
On Friday the 11th of November, the BBC included a segment on its evening news about asylum hotels. We asked the BBC to send us the clip to share - it is available to view on this link.
The BBC said on its news page:
Residents at a hotel accommodating asylum seekers faced a scabies outbreak and "inhumane treatment", a council and a charity have claimed.
Stockport Council said people were "cooped up" at an unnamed hotel in the town for a number of months, with some residents being treated for scabies.
Human rights charity Rapar said piles of rubbish were left in corridors and insects were found in food.
Serco, which runs the hotel, said there were "currently no cases of scabies".
The firm told BBC North West Tonight that waste was removed daily, a balanced and nutritious menu was served and staff treated residents with respect.
Council leader Mark Hunter said the town had "provided warm support to asylum seekers, Afghan evacuees and Ukrainians over the past year or so", but both hotel residents and locals were "suffering" due to conditions at the site.
"Asylum seekers have been cooped up… for months and this inhumane treatment acts as a Petri dish for mental health issues in a cohort that are already vulnerable," he said.
"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."
Follow this link to the BBC page.
RAPAR has recently learned of further human rights abuses in a SERCO-run hotel in Greater Manchester.
As part of our on-going campaign - SERCO MUST GO! - we have written a letter to Stockport City Council leader to describe the hotel's conditions and violations in terms of education, health, food, maintenance and cleanliness, security, freedom of movement, and staff behaviour.
This open letter is based on reports from the hotel's residents, RAPAR members.
The letter begins:
Dear Mr Hunter
Profound concerns about safeguarding and security at the Home Office subcontracted SERCO-controlled hotel located within the Stockport Council boundary
I write to you as a member of the Human Rights organisation RAPAR and a Greater Manchester resident.
Over the last ten days several RAPAR members who are in the National Asylum and Support system have begun to share extremely disturbing information about safeguarding and security issues related to the Stockport located SERCO run hotel that houses people seeking asylum. (You will of course know the name and location of this hotel and appreciate that it is not appropriate for me to disclose it in this Open Letter from RAPAR, thereby creating further safeguarding issues. Its identity is included in my cover email to you.)
View the open letter here: Open letter from RAPAR to Stockport Council