News

Allegations of Awful Conditions at Refugee Hotel Where Six People Were Attacked

Management at Mears Housing said all was well in the Glasgow hotels housing asylum seekers during the coronavirus pandemic. A day later, six people had been hospitalised in a knife attack.
14 July 2020, 8:15am
park inn hotel attack
Armed police officers exit the Park Inn Hotel after Badreddin Abdalla Adam was shot dead on the 26th of June, 2020. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

On Friday the 26th of June, Sudanese asylum seeker Badreddin Abdalla Adam attacked fellow residents and staff of the Park Inn Hotel in central Glasgow with a knife. The attack led to the hospitalisation of six people, including two teenage asylum seekers and a police officer, as well as Adam's death, after he was shot by police.

Adam was one of 350 asylum seekers temporarily housed in six hotels around the city by Mears Housing. The company took the decision to move asylum seekers from supported accommodation and flats across Glasgow into these hotels as the coronavirus lockdown was implemented across the UK. The decision, made in conjunction with the Home Office, was criticised by NGOs at the time.

The day before Adam's attack, John Taylor – chief operating officer of Mears – was responding to allegations of poor conditions within the hotels. During the call, Taylor told VICE News, "Our staff are very proud of the efforts they’ve gone to to make the hotel stay as comfortable and easy as possible for people. We're not going to achieve that 350 times over. There are going to be times when people’s frustrations and unhappiness will spill over."

Just over 24 hours after the briefing ended, frustrations spilled over with deadly consequences. Badreddin Abdalla Adam told fellow asylum seekers at the Park Inn hotel that he was planning to attack fellow residents. One man known only as Siraj told the Guardian that Adam had told him on the Thursday night, "Everyone here in the hotel is against me." Adam was reportedly visited by Mears staff the next morning. By 1:30PM, he was dead and six people were critically injured.

The attack follows a series of incidents that cast doubt on Mears' assurances of good conditions within the hotels.

On the 5th of May, Adnan Olbeh – a 30-year-old Syrian asylum seeker – was found dead in his room in another Glasgow hotel, the McLays Guest House.

Olbeh is alleged to have raised concerns with Mears staff, telling them that the hotel was making him unwell. According to friends, he suffered trauma from previous abuse in prison and expressed suicidal thoughts. He asked to see a GP, but was allegedly told to "hold on a few days". The next morning, Olbeh was found dead in his room.

In a statement released on the 21st of May, in response to criticism of their decision to move people into the hotels, Mears asserted, "We informed our service users and safely moved them, giving reasonable and fair notice in the context of COVID-19 and the speed of events. We kept the authorities and the charities and NGOs we work with informed, implemented their recommendations and addressed any concerns."

Testimonies from those within the hotels gathered by the No Evictions Network and seen by VICE News tell a different story. One person who was moved said, "Someone knocked on the door and gave me 20 minutes to pack up and get in the car. I didn't know where they were moving me." Another asylum seeker said that, before the move, "There were no letters, nothing from Mears or the Home Office. Even the day they called me I tried to ask them, 'Could I just get to where you want me to be in three days? Could I just have some time to myself?' They said no. It was a complete shock. They said, 'No, no, no. This is the HO [Home Office]. When the HO tells you to move, you have to move.' So that was that. I've been stuck here ever since."

At the Zoom media briefing, Mears chief operating officer John Taylor admitted that a "blanket decision" had been taken on the moves, and that no individual risk assessments had taken place. Hours later, the company backtracked, with a spokesperson telling The Independent that Taylor was "wrong" to state no assessments had been carried out.

A lack of assessment would represent a "serious breach" of the company’s contract, charities said. The Scottish Refugee Council called the decision "unacceptable", indicating that it was potentially unlawful.

It is alleged that Mears have consistently failed to provide adequate access to medical services to those suffering from acute physical health crises. According to No Evictions Network, one such incident occurred on the 13th of June, when an asylum seeker suspected he had a broken foot. Members of Mears staff were heard to say, "People are dying, this is not an emergency," by members of the campaign group, who were then forced to pay for a taxi to hospital for the injured asylum seeker. The day before, in a separate incident, a 67-year-old man suffering chest pains and breathing problems was told to "wait until Monday" to see a nurse. It is alleged by No Evictions Network that the man had still not received medical assessment from a nurse by Tuesday afternoon – four days after the pain first appeared.

"Full board" has been provided to all those resident at the hotels, leading to the removal of the £35 to £37 weekly allowance in line with Home Office rules. The removal of the allowance has left those in the hotel entirely dependent upon Mears staff for food and basic essentials, such as toiletries and painkillers, which are alleged to have not always been readily available.

Footage seen by VICE News shows mouldy or contaminated food alleged to have been provided by Mears. In response to a statement from Mears referring to the food as of "a good standard", No Evictions Network wrote to the company disputing the claims. In a letter seen by VICE News, they say "this food was in fact 'snack' food of poor quality, rather than actual meals… Several reports of people going hungry have reached us, as have reports of plastic in the food and occasions when the food was not taken to rooms, with residents having to wait in long queues."

According to campaigners, food refusal protests have occurred in at least two hotels. On Tuesday the 16th of June, demonstrators – including some of those resident within hotels – marched through Glasgow in protest at the conditions. The demonstration was attacked by members of the far-right.

Mears have consistently denied the claims of poor conditions and food at the hotels. At the media briefing prior to the attack, Chief Operating Officer John Taylor said, "That isn’t, we believe, our food. That isn’t how our food is served." When asked by VICE News about the inconsistency between the claims of campaigners and the company, Taylor said that descriptions of life in the hotels were "not ones we recognise". The company pointed to an anonymous "customer feedback" survey they ran six weeks previously, in which 70 percent of residents took part, declaring they were happy with the conditions. No Evictions Network claim to have been in contact with at least 56 different hotel residents who have raised concerns.

Taylor added, "We didn’t enter this contract to make anyone’s lives unhappier than they already are. We recognise where people have come from in the asylum process – the last thing we need to do is make their lives any more stressful. This situation has been caused by the COVID pandemic. I believe we’ve responded as well as we can to every situation that’s come. The inconsistencies are around messaging and campaigning, and I believe hand on heart we’ve done our best to accommodate people in the best way possible."

“I would say that if the conditions were as sometimes portrayed, that the NHS workers in the hotels would have sounded the alarm and would have made it clear that this was unacceptable. We’ve also had feedback from Glasgow City Council’s social and health department that what we’re doing is, in their view, good."

In the aftermath of the attack, Mears said in a press statement: "Our thoughts remain with those in hospital and others impacted by this tragedy. We are doing everything we can to provide additional support to service users.

"We immediately moved service users from the Park Inn Hotel into new accommodation on Friday night. Mears staff slept here also to provide additional help and support. Glasgow City Council have provided four social workers from their Major Incident Support Team to be on site. We are providing access to additional counselling support and to essential items such as clothing. We wish to thank our staff, the police and NHS, and the charities and support groups who have assisted with the collective and significant response. We are assisting the police with their investigation."

Dylan Fotoohi, from the newly formed group Refugees for Justice, spent the day after the attack with those who were moved from Park Inn Hotel. He told VICE News, "I was with them at the hotel until 9PM. They were still in their pyjamas and sandals. They did not have shoes and jackets to wear. Some of them were very distressed, telling me they have not been able to sleep, and reported to me that they had asked the Mears staff to help them access mental health support or a doctor. They had asked for this three times on Saturday, and at 9PM they were yet to see a doctor."

He continued, "There is no doubt that most of them are shocked and traumatised, and it is the responsibility of the police, local authority and the Mears group to conduct urgent welfare assessments, to ensure all practical needs are met, and specialised trauma support is provided."

In a statement provided to VICE News, No Evictions Network said, "No Evictions Network – including many residents inside the hotels themselves, some of whom witnessed the horrific scenes [on the 26th of June] – are deeply concerned about the well-being and support services being provided to those who were present, and the ongoing issues facing residents across the hotel accommodation. We await a full investigation into the background and culmination of Friday’s attack, and condemn attempts to use this incident to further incite racism and fear."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We don’t recognise these reports and they do not reflect the good standard of accommodation provided. We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers in our care extremely seriously. Full board accommodation in hotels includes three meals a day and fresh fruit, full access to healthcare and a 24-hour national helpline is available for anyone experiencing issues with their accommodation."

A police investigation into the attack on the 26th of June is ongoing.

@bencsmoke

UPDATE 16/07/20: This article has been edited to include an updated comment from the Home Office.