Asylum seeker houses 'unfit for children'

Two single mothers told a cross-party group of MPs and Peers that the state of their accommodation, frequent moves and the attitude of the private housing providers left them feeling degraded and depressed

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The Independent Online

Housing provided to asylum seeker families is unfit for children, a Parliamentary inquiry has been told.

Two single mothers housed in the north-East told a cross-party group of MPs and Peers that the state of their accommodation, frequent moves and the attitude of the private housing providers left them feeling degraded and depressed.

The women were giving evidence to an inquiry examining whether the Home Secretary’s statutory duty to safeguard and promote children’s welfare, which came into force in 2009, is being met.

The housing in the North-east is provided by the security company G4S, which won two of the six lucrative UK Border Agency contracts to house asylum seekers earlier this year.

The Independent today revealed that G4S had failed to meet its contractual obligation to re-house asylum seekers in Yorkshire by 12 November, and people had been rushed into squalid properties as the deadline approached.

Both young women described frequent incidents of workmen from the local housing provider Jomast – which G4S sub-contracts – letting themselves in to flats unannounced, without prior warning.

Cha Matty, 31, from Zimbabwe, was dispersed from London to an asylum seekers hostel for mothers and babies last year – two weeks before she gave birth to her daughter.

“There are many occasions where male staff have peaked at me in the bathroom and bedroom, they just barge in, they don’t respect you.

“G4S promised us in a meeting five months ago that they would get rid of this hostel, but we are still there. 30 women and 38 children all living in single rooms, with no space for my daughter to walk or play,” she told The Independent.

She has asked several times for a stair guard to be installed since her daughter started to crawl because it is “an accident waiting to happen”, the inquiry heard.

Jane, 31, from Russia, has just moved her six-year-old son into his third school after she was unexpectedly moved from a two bedroom flat to a one bedroom on the grounds it was too big for them.

“My child is growing up, he feels what I feel, he experiences what I experience… Families should not be constantly moved to different towns and cities; it extremely affects education and mental health.”

She added: “I understand that Jomast has to do repairs, but they don’t knock the door, they have keys so they just enter the property, they absolutely ignore people living there… this has happened to me so many times… it is disgusting.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society which is supporting the inquiry, said these experiences were not uncommon.

“We work with children and families in the asylum system every day who are living in terrible conditions. This very often has a huge impact on their health and welfare… many have fled violence and persecution in their own country."

Stephen Monk from Jomast said the hostel in Stockton-on-Tees was fully compliant with standards, inspected regularly and there was sufficient space for children to play.

He added: “Key workers do not enter accommodation without reasonable warning. All staff have enhanced CRB checks and are fully trained.”

A G4S spokesman said it would look into all the individual complaints and many customers could expect to see improvements in their accommodation in the coming weeks as historic housing stocks were reviewed.    

The inquiry’s report will be published early next year.