Six children seeking refuge in the UK spent the freezing winter months without heating or hot water before being plunged into darkness for several days.
The family, who the Mirror has decided not to name, fled to the UK from Iraq due to the danger they faced to their lives.
After a long and perilous journey through the Middle East and then Europe, including a period sleeping rough in the Calais Jungle, they made it across the Channel earlier this year and were put in asylum seeker accommodation by the Home Office.
As grateful as they are to have found refuge in a safer country, the conditions that the family-of-eight are living in as they awaits news of their asylum applications are grim and potentially a threat to their health.
All of the kids – aged 17, 15, 11, 7, 3 and three-months-old – have been ravaged by a bed bug infestation firmly rooted in the filthy sheets of the London hotel.
A lack of washing facilities has made it difficult for the kids’ parents to get the cramped accommodation, which included surfaces caked with grime when they arrived, up to scratch.
From October to mid-December the family were left without a flushing toilet, hot water or heating, meaning the temperature inside plummeted and the rooms became slick with condensation.
They were all evacuated onto the street in their nightclothes when another resident tried to warm themselves by lighting a fire in their room.
After her breathing became increasingly laboured in the cold and damp conditions, the three-month-old was rushed to hospital where she spent four days recovering.
She returned to a home that had been plunged into darkness by a four day long power cut.
A volunteer who helps the family told the Mirror about the conditions the family were living in.
“They are frightened to get into bed at night and they are all suffering from stress, trauma and exhaustion,” she said.
“The kids are crying all the time which is putting pressure on the mental health of the whole family.
“The bed bug infestation is everywhere and growing. There are bites all over the family. They are begging me for help.”
When a housing officer visited the family just before Christmas and discovered the conditions they were living in, he immediately called a taxi and had them taken to alternative accommodation.
While their new home is much improved, the children are no longer close enough to attend the school they were enrolled in come January.
It is the second time they’ve been moved since they arrived, with the roof of their third home caving in amid a burst water pipe.
The bleak accommodation offered to the family highlights the reality of life in the UK for asylum seekers, many of whom are suffering intense mental trauma having fled deadly situations.
In June 2020 54,073 people were waiting in such ‘contingency accommodation’ for their applications to be approved or declined by the Home Office.
Of these, 72% had been waiting – unable to work – for more than six months, an increase of 57% from the same time the year before, according to the Refugee Council.
When they are eventually processed, 64% of initial applications are approved while half of those rejected are granted an appeal, this years figures to September show.
Care4Calais, which helps people fleeing dangerous situations abroad, has condemned the delays.
“We often see the real life consequences of processing delays in the mental health impact they have on people moving through the asylum system,” the charity stated in a recent report.
“Asylum seekers face sustained stress and anxiety over the length of time their claim takes to process.
“An asylum claim is more often than not a matter of life and death to those who need it.”
Care4Calais condemned the use of hotels and barracks as accommodation for asylum seekers, arguing it is “inherently unsuitable long term accommodation” due to their lack of cooking and washing facilities, among other issues.
“Care4Calais has witnessed and supported residents through group hunger strikes at five different accommodations since January 2021,” its report continues.
“Every week we support people who are making or considering suicide attempts. Knowing that the people we work with have survived conflict and torture, that they have crossed the Sahara, survived torture in Libya and seen friends drown crossing the Mediterranean, it is devastating to find that it is here in the UK that people lose hope.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are dealing with unprecedented pressures on the asylum system, but despite this we continue to ensure the accommodation provided is safe, comfortable and secure.”
In reality, the UK receives roughly half the asylum applications of the average EU country per capita.
Once they’re published, this year’s application figures will likely be around half those received in 2004, when a record 84,132 were submitted.
“The Nationality and Borders Bill that we are introducing will deliver the most comprehensive reform in decades to fix the broken asylum system,” the spokesperson continued.
“Those awaiting a decision on their asylum application may be eligible for access a range of support, including free NHS healthcare and access to education for children.”
To read the full Care4Calais report click here and click here to find out how you can help.
Clearsprings, which runs the accommodation, said: “We take complaints such as those you make in your email very seriously; accommodated asylum seekers are able to raise any issues or concerns with staff directly or via the 24/7 Migrant Help hotline. We will then investigate the issue and resolve it in line with the requirements of the contract.
“We are committed to providing safe, fit for purpose properties to our residents and we are currently investigating the various issues that have been highlighted in your email. The safety and wellbeing of the people we accommodate is of paramount importance and we are currently engaging with the residents to ensure they are provided with the appropriate support and any complaints or issues raised are immediately addressed.
“We appreciate constructive feedback and are committed to the continuous improvement of the services provided to asylum seekers. Unfortunately, due to GDPR constraints, we would not comment on individual cases.”