Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The housing issue for asylum seekers starts from day zero  

This post is part of our 'Experiences from the field' section. This section is specifically dedicated to amplify the experiences of those on the ground, activists, community advocates and people directly affected by border violence (experts-by-experience). Do get in touch with us if you want to contribute. 



Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Mamo. Mamo is a sanctuary seeker in the UK. This post is part of our on-going 'Experiences from the Field' series. 


For asylum seekers, the journey to a new life in the UK begins not with stability, but with uncertainty. As someone who has been in the asylum accommodation for more than a year, I will discuss the uncertainty we face, from the waiting period to after getting a status. Anxiety is the second name of the “hotel” we live in. It is actually wrong to call it a hotel. It is a building which used to be a hotel. I would say it is a space that represents the technology of hostilities. What do I mean?  

When people arrive at the hotel you can witness the confusion in their faces. They don’t know anyone. Their minds are so busy trying to adjust to the new conditions they are in. That was the case for me and many more people I know. As a person who has been living in Home Office asylum accommodation for more than a year, I have noticed how important the space we occupy is to us. And how home-less we are.  

Home symbolizes stability. But we are between the home we had to leave behind and the home we hope to make in the future. Where we live is not stable even after arriving in the UK. You are not certain you will stay here until you get a decision on your case. At any moment, the Home Office could send you a letter stating you will be sent to a different hotel, or a RAF site, or Bibby Stockholm.   

Home also symbolises a sense of security and privacy, the space to rest and take a break from the outside world. But I share a tiny room with another person. We do not choose who we share rooms with. You need a moment to sigh, a moment of personal space, some time alone. And the hotel staff can come to search your room. They knock one or two times and enter the room, whether you allow them or not. They don’t listen to “Can you wait for one minute” or for “Can you do it later I am on a call now?”. The excuse is to check the room and fire hazard devices. They search for your personal belongings – rumble through your stuff. With these kinds of intrusions, there is no sense of home. You can leave your room and go to the lobby. There, you will meet people who came out for the same reason. I value people. I enjoy conversations. But I also need quiet.  

Picture of a sign that says 'NO to barge transfers'
Picture from local protest in Oxford against Bibby Stockholm barge transfers

Stuck in the lobby…  

The lobby is our only shared space. It is generally busy, especially during meal times. The lobby is a multilingual space. Different people make up small groups with their friends and have their own chat. It can be loud sometimes. Some people will be calling Migrant Help, a charity you contact to get your financial support from the Home Office or other related matters. You will hear the automated message over the speaker while they wait for an hour or more until someone answers them. Well, this is the place of waiting.   

Waiting that goes on for months. You want to do something, to work, study, be independent, instead, you are fed low-quality food by private catering companies who make a fortune out of your misery. Eating and sleeping become the main activities of the day. People are made docile and dependent by waiting. You have to wait for more than six months to study anything formally, whether it is English language or something else, and that is only if you can get on the long waiting list for free classes. You have to wait a year until you are allowed to do any kind of work. Getting the bus to the city centre costs half of your weekly stipend of £8.86. It is a system that contains, a process that debilitates.  

In the media, you hear politicians making problematic comments day and day out about you.  

They say, “most of them are criminals”. How many is “most of them”? They say “it is an invasion”. They represent asylum seekers as a crowd, as a single body and erase every complexity. You are made into a certain thing, a threat. You are fixed into an unmovable thing through the making of meaning in the media. You do not have access to those platforms. Silencing does not only work by denying you a space to speak, but by speaking about you in a way that totalizes your experience and does not represent you. You are made a subaltern with a system that harms you until it figures out the “cheats” from the real refugees.       

And… one day, after a waiting that seemed endless… you may get refugee status. It is exciting, but don’t be too excited!   


Start from scratch, you have 28 days...  

You have one month to leave the asylum accommodation. All the time you think you had, all the waiting you were subjected to, now morphs into its opposite: they can’t wait to evict you. Your days are counted. Did they give you a chance to equip yourself during all those times? No: in the name of deterring people who are not here, you have been kept in a passive state! As a result, people hope that, if they do get status, “the government won’t leave us on the streets”.  

But now, it is up to you! If you have any serious physical or mental illnesses, the Council might find you temporary accommodation. Your local charity might be able to find you a bed in someone’s house for a short period. But if, like many of the people I live with, you are a healthy young man (no matter you may not know any English, may not have the necessary digital skills, and may have no clue about the system) you need to find a room to rent by yourself.   

Almost all of the asylum seekers in the hotel are unfamiliar with the UK system, and need better information and help to find a place to live. I have seen many people who got status recently struggling with the system. There is tension, a stress you feel and see around you. Landlords prefer to rent their house to people who are employed. The government benefit you get until you start working is small compared to the expense of rent in many places. The housing problem in general is a systemic failure.   

As we see people leaving the hotel to sleep on the streets, we know we could be in the same situation soon. The short-term gain of cutting the hotel bill is causing long-term damage, forcing refugees onto the streets just at the time when they should be starting to build new lives in the UK. They are short of long-term thinking. You are short of time. Good luck!    


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