Asylum seekers ‘effectively detained’ at Home Office hotels in potential legal breach

People who crossed the Channel were taken to “short stay” hotels and claim they were told they couldn't leave

Reports Aaron Walawalkar, Liberty Investigates journalist, and May Bulman, Social Affairs Correspondent at the Independent. Edited by Eleanor Rose, Liberty Investigates editor.


Asylum seekers as young as 16 years old claim they have been prevented from leaving their Home Office hotels for days in conditions an expert described as “effective detention”, an investigation has found.

The Home Office says people who’ve crossed the Channel are taken to “short-term stay” hotels for 48 hours on average when it hasn’t been possible to complete standard screening checks at facilities in Kent, but that they “can come and go freely as they wish”.

But a joint investigation by The Independent and Liberty Investigates has unearthed accounts from 10 asylum seekers who claim their movements were restricted at two hotels – one in Hounslow, near Heathrow airport, and a second near Gatwick.

The Humans for Rights Network (HFRN) said seven “distressed” young people it believes to be minors, but whose ages are disputed by the Home Office, asked them for help while staying at the Hounslow hotel. Three claimed to have been stuck inside for two weeks.

Three adults also claim to have been kept indoors, while an NGO worker who visited a third hotel in Slough claimed to have seen guards “push” an adult asylum seeker back inside through the front doors as he tried to leave.

Reporters witnessed a security guard stop an asylum seeker who was attempting to leave a "short-term stay" hotel near Heathrow. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar/Liberty Investigates

Experts said the restrictions on movement amounted to “a form of incarceration”, bringing into question Home Office claims that “no one in [short-stay] hotels is detained”.

The Home Office declined to confirm how many short-term stay hotels are in operation, or how many people had stayed in them. Two asylum seekers staying at the Hounslow hotel claimed to have been among hundreds accommodated there since May, while an asylum seeker at the Gatwick hotel reported seeing dozens come and go.

Maddie Harris, director of HFRN, claimed seven suspected unaccompanied children were “deprived of their basic rights” while staying at the Hounslow facility alongside adults they do not know.

All claim to be aged 16 or 17, but officials in Dover deemed them adults following a “rapid” assessment upon arrival in the UK, said Harris. The charity is supporting them to undergo full age assessments.

Under-18s must be housed by Local Authorities in regulated accommodation or in specific child-only hotels. But the young people were instead transported to Hounslow the day after arriving by small boat – all between 19 July and 16 August – where they recalled being told they could not leave until their screening interviews were over – up to two weeks in some cases, the charity said.

The Home Office denied that children are placed in adult short-stay hotels and said “individuals claiming to be children are only placed in hotels for adults if an initial age assessment has concluded they are significantly over the age of 18”.

“Staying in a room for days, having nothing to do, and not knowing what’s going to come next – it was difficult”

An asylum seeker at a hotel near Gatwick Airport

Adults with potential vulnerabilities and medical issues are also among those who say they had their movements restricted.

Qudrat Hijrat, 29, was taken to the Hounslow hotel after arriving in Britain in a small boat and claimed to have spent more than two months there. During this time, reporters witnessed a member of security staff stopping him as he tried to leave to pray at a local mosque.

The Afghan asylum seeker was eventually allowed out after a guard radioed colleagues. Hijrat claimed to have been sent back inside on other occasions, and said it led to his being isolated to his bedroom, worsening his depression. “I [was] going mad,” he said. “At least [they] should let me go somewhere and walk around and meet with people.”

A Syrian asylum seeker who stayed at the same hotel, and asked not to be named, said he was told he couldn’t go outside until he’d completed an initial interview the following day, and then only after 5pm.

Stay Belvedere Hotels Limited (SBHL), the company that manages the hotel on behalf of Home Office contractor Clearsprings Ready Homes, and Jaguar Security Limited, which provides security personnel, did not respond to requests for comment.

Another asylum seeker showed reporters a document he received at the Gatwick hotel, which at the time was managed by private firm Serco. It stated: “You are free to leave the hotel whenever you like”, but it also said he would “have to ask security on your floor”. He claimed they often refused permission.

“There were days where we had to wait three hours for them to let us go out,” he said. “Staying in a room for days, having nothing to do, and not knowing what’s going to come next – it was difficult.”

A Serco spokesman said asylum seekers were given full access in and out of the hotel. It did not respond to questions about whether security guards refused requests to leave on some occasions.

“These asylum seekers are effectively being detained, or are being led to believe they are being detained ... That is a form of incarceration”

Pierre Makhlouf, Bail for Immigration Detainees

Lawyer Pierre Makhlouf, legal director at the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, said that the alleged restrictions at the hotels “cannot be justified” and suggested “confusion about what is reasonable and lawful” among security contractors.

“This means these asylum seekers are effectively being detained, or are being led to believe they are being detained, in these hotels for days. That is a form of incarceration that cannot be justified,” he said.

In response to allegations about restriction of movement at the hotels, a Home Office spokesperson said: “No-one in hotels is detained, including those on immigration bail … To suggest otherwise is wrong.”

A version of this story was published by the Independent.