UK Politics

'Rats and insects' found in asylum housing

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Media captionA Syrian asylum seeker tells Radio 4's Today that accommodation had cockroaches

Some asylum seekers have been placed in accommodation infested by rats, mice and insects after arriving in the UK, a report by MPs says.

The Home Affairs Committee called the conditions a "disgrace" and said some councils were doing far more than others to take in those in need.

One man said the presence of rats triggered flashbacks of a cell where he was tortured in his home country.

The government said it was committed to "safe, habitable" accommodation.

One contractor said "isolated examples of poor practice" were not a reliable guide to the standards most asylum seekers received.

'Frightened'

The committee looked at the "dispersal" scheme used to place asylum seekers around the UK.

The report said poor accommodation was the most significant problem identified in the evidence it had received.

Since 2012, housing has been provided to asylum seekers via six regional contracts delivered by Serco, G4S and Clearsprings Ready Homes.

One woman reportedly said: "The rats run up the stairs, and out of the store cupboard into the living room.

"I am frightened for the children... twice they said they were sending pest control - nobody arrived."

Another house was "very dirty".

"The carpet was very smelly and dusty. The kitchen was full of mice; they even ran across the dining table while we were eating," the report said.

A different client reported that "the presence and noise of rats triggered flashbacks, as he shared a cell with rats when he was detained and tortured in his country of origin".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Some residents reported problems with rats

MPs said insects were a more widespread problem than rodents, with one woman stating: "Since we had moved into this house, all of my children had bites on their skin. The GP said that it was due to insect bites."

In another property, a woman had a blanket on the floor, reporting that "the carpet was dirty and smelt of urine when she moved in".

"She had tried hard to wash it, but could not get rid of the smell, so she had had to buy a blanket to cover the floor to put her baby on," the report said.

The report also found applicants were concentrated in a small number of some of the most deprived areas - placing pressure on local schools and healthcare services - while the voluntary nature of the scheme meant some councils took none.

The committee called for measures to increase participation by councils in the scheme, adding if some continued to fail to sign up, the government should use powers to compel them.

'Affluent areas doing nothing'

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said: "The state of accommodation for some asylum seekers and refugees in this country is a disgrace.

"It is completely unfair on those local authorities and communities that have signed up and are now taking many more people, when so many local authorities in more affluent areas are still doing nothing at all."

But David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's asylum, migration and refugee task group, said councils were "stepping up to the plate", with more than 200 becoming dispersal areas.

The Home Office said it was committed to providing "safe and secure accommodation" while asylum applications were considered.

A spokesman said it worked closely with its contractors to ensure they provide accommodation that was "safe, habitable, fit for purpose and adequately equipped" and was regularly inspected, it said.

"We will consider the committee's recommendations and respond in full shortly," he added.

G4S's managing director for immigration, John Whitwam, said the report made clear that standards of accommodation had "generally improved" over the past two years.

He added that "isolated examples of poor practice" were not "a reliable guide to the standards the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers coming to Britain can expect to receive".

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