Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner has argued with the Home Office over housing pregnant asylum seekers in ‘dehumanizing’ conditions in Glasgow.
The UK government and its property developer Mears have been accused of “violating the human rights of children” by housing pregnant women and new mothers in hotels across the city.
As The Herald reported last month, around 10 women had been placed in McLays Guest House without, according to charities, adequate food or space to care for their newborn babies.
The conditions in the B&B were first raised by the charity Positive Action in Housing, which lobbied for long-term accommodation to be found for the women.
Today, the office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People Scotland embraced the cause, calling conditions at the hotel “seriously concerning”.
Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations for Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said: “Human rights are universal.
“They apply to all children without exception, and regardless of their immigration status.
“It is extremely concerning that there are reports of pregnant mothers and infants being housed in hotel rooms and without the financial support they need.
“Hotel accommodation is totally unsuitable for children and families and should only be used on a short-term basis in an emergency.”
Mr Hobbs underscored the urgency of the situation, adding: “The Mears Group must act immediately to get these families out of this precarious and vulnerable situation and into suitable accommodation.
“Failure to do so would violate the human rights of children and have serious repercussions on health, education and a development that can last throughout childhood and into adulthood.”
Pregnant women and new mothers were previously housed in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Glasgow’s South End, but this was closed in May following a campaign by a coalition of charities supported by the Children’s Commissioner.
The intention was to move the women and children to apartments, but Mears said the lack of suitable housing in the community forced the use of hotels.
As with Positive Action in Housing, the charity Amma Birth Companions works directly with women at McLays Guest House and other hotels in the city.
Beti Brown, Peer Support Coordinator, and Helen Sheriff, Perinatal Services Manager, described the conditions in the hotel as totally unsuitable and designed to be used for emergencies only, rather than long-term accommodation .
They said the problem is growing rapidly and they are concerned about the long-term impact on those they support.
Ms Brown said: “You can’t live comfortably and safely in institutionalized accommodation, it is what it is.
“I think people hear the word ‘hotel’ and they think it’s fancy; it’s not that kind of hotel and, in fact, the reality is that although it was a really lovely hotel, having no control over your environment or autonomy or control over your life situation is actually deeply dehumanizing at any point in your life, let alone when people are pregnant.
“You live in chronic uncertainty that is bad for every part of your life.
“You can’t live comfortably like this while trying to keep this little new creature that you just gave birth to alive.
“It’s just a deeply dehumanizing situation to keep someone, especially a new parent going through this transitional phase of their life.”
Ms Brown and Ms Sheriff described the families they support with more than one child living in a hotel room, leaving no personal space for older children to have privacy or to study.
While living in fully equipped accommodation, asylum seekers receive £1 a day to live on, with new mothers entitled to an additional £8.24 a week – doubling their budget to just over £2 a day to support to the needs of their babies.
Ms Brown said the increased payment would give women more dignity and choice, and access to kitchen facilities would be a significant improvement.
In hotels, residents do not have access to kitchens, which means that women who express their breast milk have nowhere to store it.
Ms Brown said: ‘You can make formula in the rooms, but it’s not cheap and we shouldn’t encourage situations where it’s safer for you to make formula than to breastfeed.’
Issues have also been raised regarding the quality of food during pregnancy and the lack of space in hotel rooms.
Ms Sheriff spoke of a mum bathing her newborn baby in a baby bath balanced on a toilet as it was the only space available while a new mum The Herald spoke to said she slept with her baby only because there was no room for a cot.
Robina Qureshi, CEO of Positive Action in Housing, described the conditions of one of the women her charity supports.
She said: “The room is a crowded fire hazard, and boiling kettles are piled up next to food and washing tablets and open cartons of food on Soraya’s table.
“The mother’s condition has deteriorated considerably, especially her mental state healthand the baby cries continuously.
“She has nowhere to put the baby’s things and has refused a pram as there is nowhere to put it and is therefore confined to the bedroom 24/7.”
The hotels are a mixed-gender environment and the charity said many of its guests have been victims of sexual abuse or human trafficking, which makes accommodation with unknown men even more unsuitable.
Ms Brown added: “This situation is not an accident.
“It’s part of a pattern of behavior, a pattern of politics designed to make people unhappy. It’s designed to tell people, not only are you not welcome here, but to get them to tell the other than that it’s awful here and you shouldn’t come.”
A Home Office spokesman said the use of hotels to house asylum seekers was ‘unacceptable’, while Mears said a shortage of goods made it difficult to find accommodation appropriate.
The Home Office representative said: “The use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers, including pregnant women and mothers of newborn babies, is unacceptable and we are working closely with the authorities. to find suitable accommodation across the UK.”
A Mears spokesperson described the hotel’s use as “emergency accommodation” used by the Home Office across the UK, but said pregnant service users are given priority for moves.
He added: “Due to an increase in the number of people seeking asylum and a severe shortage of suitable accommodation in the community, hotels are being used as emergency accommodation by the Home Office across the UK. United.
“This includes accommodating pregnant service users where needed, while we arrange suitable alternative accommodation.
“All rooms used meet Home Office requirements and families also have access to common areas.”