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Asylum seekers still at ‘heightened risk’ of coronavirus unless accommodation changes are made, MPs warn

MPs called on the Government to ensure providers stopped housing asylum seekers in shared rooms (PA)

3 min read

MPs have warned that many asylum seekers are still at “heightened risk” of catching Covid-19 unless urgent changes are made to accommodation arrangements.

The Home Affairs Committee said ministers had made “sensible” adjustment to asylum accommodation at the start of the pandemic — but warned that continued failings could put individuals at risk.

The cross-party group of MPs is calling on the Home Office to ensure housing providers end the practice of making residents share rooms, improve social distancing in shared spaces and provide appropriate cleaning facilities and  products to prevent coronavirus outbreaks. 

Committee chair Yvette Cooper said: “During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen the devastating impact this virus can have and the heightened risk in shared accommodation and institutions. 

“The threat from coronavirus hasn’t gone away and more action is needed to prevent it spreading in institutional accommodation and to protect the physical and mental health of those in both asylum accommodation and immigration detention.”

Officials said that no one newly entering the asylum estate has been placed in room sharing with someone they are not related to, and that providers are following Public Health England guidance.

Elsewhere in the report, committee members were critical of poor planning and risk management among private subcontractors such as Mears Group.

The company was responsible for moving 300 asylum seekers into temporary accommodation in Glasgow in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those housed included the man responsible for stabbing six people in a city centre hostel who was later shot by police. 

The report also cited an incident in Wakefield, where 84 residents were moved following an outbreak without being tested. 

Ms Cooper continued: “We were particularly troubled about the way Mears Group handled moving large numbers of residents between different kinds of accommodation in a rush - firstly in Glasgow in March, and then from Wakefield in July. 

“In both cases we heard how proper support was not put in place for residents, leaving some people in difficulty and distress, while local authorities were not informed about what was happening to ensure that public health was being protected.”

Earlier this month, a separate report by the National Audit Office warned that hundreds of asylum seekers had been unable to access basic services for more than 12 weeks.

More than 1,000 people claiming asylum were placed in hotels each night in the seven months to March 2020, rather than in dedicated housing for asylum seekers, meaning charities and local health services have struggled to provide services to them, the spending watchdog found.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We take the wellbeing of all those in the asylum system extremely seriously. As noted in the report, we have taken many measures to reduce the risk of transmission in these unprecedented times. 

“This includes reducing the number of people in immigration detention and providing free temporary accommodation to asylum seekers to ensure social distancing, where free meals, toiletries and other support measures are provided.”

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