Asylum seekers ‘abused and intimidated by staff in Home Office hotels’ | Immigration and asylum

Asylum seekers staying at Home Office hotels in and around Liverpool are alleged to have been harassed, humiliated and subjected to verbal and emotional abuse from senior hotel staff, according to an investigation for the Observers.

Sources working for the Home Office subcontractor Serco have described what they believe is a culture of “institutional abuse” at five Merseyside hotels, including the Suites hotel in Knowsley, where violent far-right protests took place in February. Sources include current and former contractors recruited to work in Home Office hotels for Serco.

On one occasion, sources said that senior Serco staff chased an asylum seeker diagnosed with schizophrenia into his hotel room, rattled the handles and shouted abuse at him from behind the locked door. It is understood that the managers were aware of his condition.

A source said: “You’ve got someone with paranoid schizophrenia being told: ‘If I see you outside, you’d better run,’ then kicking his door to intimidate him and laughing about it when he gets distressed.

“It’s verbally and psychologically very, very aggressive behavior. The power dynamics are stacked against the service users.”

The source added that they were not aware that any senior managers working at the five hotels had received training in mental health and trauma support, and claimed that the provision of medication, including for the man with schizophrenia, was not carefully managed.

Sources also allege a member of the hotel staff repeatedly uses racist language when referring to asylum seekers. They also claimed senior hotel staff denied people water and food, and shouted and swore at anyone who requested support, telling them: “Fuck off and call Migrant Help.”

More than 50,000 asylum seekers are now being accommodated in Home Office-run hotels at a cost of more than £6m a day. In 2019, Serco was awarded a £1.9bn contract by the department to manage asylum accommodation and support over a 10-year term.

A Serco spokesperson said: “Serco has rigorously investigated the claims that have been put to us by the Observers and found that they are without foundation. They do not have any basis in fact and contain a number of significant inaccuracies, which, as we have pointed out to the Observerssignificantly undermines the credibility of their story.

“No complaints have been made by any asylum seekers in our care directly to us via the Serco whistleblowing line or through any of the comprehensive, robust and independent complaint procedures that are available to asylum seekers, our employees and partners.

“We have a high regard for, and confidence in, the teams at both the hotels and strongly believe they perform a challenging role with professionalism and compassion for the people in their care.”

On the night of the Knowsley protests in February, during which several hundred anti-migrant demonstrators gathered outside the Suites hotel, members of its staff are alleged to have said they “wanted to be there [at the protest]”.

One member of hotel staff reportedly said that if a protest took place outside their hotel, they would join it.

Claims were also made to the Observers that staff were told by senior leaders not to provide hot drinks, including in the winter, with chefs feeling under “constant pressure” to make fewer, cheaper meals.

“Sometimes people go hungry because they’re not making enough food and running out of it quickly,” a source said. “They’re told to make 160 meals for about 225 people, so not everyone gets to eat.”

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Another source said they were banned from working at a central Liverpool hotel after speaking out about the abuse they had witnessed, saying it felt like “a lads’ club, where if you help someone, you’re ridiculed in front of everyone. They say: ‘You’re just creating work for yourself.’ If you challenge them, your shifts get cut. You’re basically only rewarded if you bully the service users.”

Sources also claim that they were provided with no formal training. other than shadowing, and they were left alone without senior manager support during night shifts. Certain shifts – usually during the day, with favorable hours – are allegedly given to those “high up in the pecking order”, they claim.

“I was incredibly taken aback I received no training even though I was new to the role and the sector,” one contractor said. “I ended up choosing to do nights because I was so undertrained and I didn’t want to be in the rat race.”

A former Serco contractor, who left recently because of stress and claims of bullying, said: “I’m really worried about what happened to the service users when I wasn’t there – there were so many safeguarding issues. I felt so guilty leaving but I couldn’t stay, for my own mental health.

“I believe that no matter where you’re from, you’re entitled to a nice life, but instead they’re being bullied because they’re vulnerable. They’ve got no one to stand up for them.”

Responding to the allegations, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We have thoroughly investigated these allegations, but cannot find any evidence to substantiate them. The wellbeing and safety of those in our care is paramount.

“We have robust safeguarding measures and dedicated welfare teams across all asylum sites to ensure that every asylum seeker is treated with dignity and has access to the support they need.”

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