Asylum seekers tell of their coronavirus fears living in ‘crowded’ Government accommodation

Asylum seekers have told how they fear for their lives at the hands of coronavirus while living in “crowded” Government accommodation as they await a decision on their claims.

Two men who are living in hostels in London while the Home Office processes their applications spoke out about their concerns, using pseudonyms to protect their identity.

Laurent David said social distancing and attempts to self-isolate were “virtually impossible” in the temporary housing.

The 39-year-old, who applied for asylum in the UK in May, said he escaped from the Democratic Republic of Congo after being imprisoned and tortured for joining an opposition party and speaking out for democracy.

He said: “Everybody is in one overcrowded space sharing the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and communal areas, where social distancing and hygiene measures are very hard to maintain.

“I feel scared of touching door handles, table tops, remote controls and handrails as they are not cleaned.

“I have to share a room with lots of people, I have to cook and eat together with others very closely.

“I feel I am already a victim of this disease. It’s very dangerous here.”

Ato Einashe, who applied for asylum in February, said he fears for his life after learning a roommate was diagnosed with Covid-19.

Communication is difficult as none of the four people he shares a room with speak the same language.

The 28-year-old, who told how he fled Ethiopia after being detained and tortured by government officials, said: “One of the people I share a room with got the virus and he was coughing and sweating. I am terrified of sharing a room with these strangers. I am scared that I will get sick.”

He said it was “very difficult” to keep to the Government recommended social distancing, adding: “I don’t know how I would take care of myself if I do get sick. I always worry that I will die.”

There are more than 35,000 people waiting for a decision on an asylum application, Home Office figures to the end of March show.

They include people who say they have sought safety in the UK after fleeing torture and sexual violence.

Some asylum seekers were temporarily moved to hotels at the height of the pandemic but the Home Office has launched a review of the decision after last month’s knife attack at one of the venues in Glasgow.

An Academy of Medical Sciences report published earlier this week, commissioned by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, warned further coronavirus outbreaks were likely among “high risk” groups such as “asylum seekers in Home Office accommodation”.

Last month, a Public Health England study found black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people had a significantly higher risk of dying with Covid-19.

The majority of asylum seekers in Britain are from BAME backgrounds, campaigners say.

More than 50 charities called on the Government to improve the conditions in which asylum seekers are housed.

Dr Juliet Cohen, a medical expert from charity Freedom from Torture who was among those to sign a letter demanding action, said: “The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from BAME backgrounds must be a wake-up call for the Home Office.

“People seeking asylum, including torture survivors, are wholly dependent on Home Office provision to support them through this pandemic, and now we know that they are at even greater risk.

“Many asylum seekers are housed in unsuitable and crowded accommodation.

“Some have been forced to share a room, or even a bed, with a stranger.”

Sonya Sceats, the charity’s chief executive, claimed urgent calls for action were still going “unheeded” by the Home Office.

But the department insisted it takes the wellbeing of those in the asylum system “extremely seriously” and procedures had been adjusted “where necessary and appropriate”.

A Home Office spokesman added: “This includes providing temporary accommodation to ensure social distancing, where free meals, toiletries and other support measures are provided.

“We have moved asylum seekers, where necessary to do so, into temporary accommodation to protect them and ensure social distancing.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.