Advocacy organisations speak out as residents told to avoid contact with outside groups
By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
Courtesy of Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
Over 100 individuals are currently housed in the Brentwood Hotel in Aberdeen since the Home Office privatised the responsibility of housing refugees in 2019. These private contractors include the MEARS Group, which operates the Aberdeen accommodations.
In late December, the Quaker meeting house was asked by MEARS staff to help organise English lessons for the asylum seekers.
The hotel in Aberdeen had been open since the middle of November however our source told us that MEARS had provided two welfare workers for the group of 100 men.
We were also told that MEARS only provided the bare necessities for the men. Our source described an environment in which the men were stuck in ‘limbo,’ with many suffering from trauma and uncertainty.
A Gaudie reporter was invited to visit the hotel, situated off of Union Street, in a quiet part of the city, but was denied entry at reception.
Most of the asylum seekers are young men under 30. Before coming to Scotland, some were entrepreneurs or students.
In Aberdeen, due to government regulations, they are not allowed to work and must pay international fees to attend university.
The men can pass the time by watching TV, learning English, or chatting with volunteers at a nearby Methodist Church.
Robina Qureshi, CEO of Positive Action for Housing told the Gaudie,
‘We understand it to be an oppressive environment for asylum seekers in that they are discouraged from having outside contact.’
When PAH attempted to help a hotel resident, a member of hotel staff called the group from the man’s phone, asking them why they were in contact with the individual.
The University declined to comment for this story, pointing the Gaudie to the Aberdeen City Council who also declined to comment.
However, AUSA Vice President for Communities, Camilo Torres-Baragán said:
‘We at AUSA consider human rights to be basic rights, essential and necessary. They should not be secondary to the economic interests for anyone…
We would encourage students who have ideas on how to campaign or support refugees and asylum seekers, to get in touch with myself or Ivana, VP for Welfare.’
Throughout Scotland, MEARS has been accused of substandard conditions in its resettlement programme. Such allegations included reports in December 2021 of poor food and lack of access to clean clothing in a Falkirk hotel, as well as removing asylum seekers from apartments and forcing them into crowded hotels during lockdown.
Responding to the Gaudie’s request for comment, a MEARS spokesperson denied claims of faced poor living conditions, saying,
‘Supporting the welfare of service users is of the utmost importance to Mears…
Service users are provided with their own room, all meals and snacks, access to health and welfare support, and other provisions… In Aberdeen, we have arranged for English conversation classes and an English tutor…’
However, student groups are calling for an end to the privatisation of asylum housing.
Just Love Aberdeen, a faith-based social justice organisation run by University of Aberdeen students, commented, ‘The government has agreed to accept these refugees, and as such they carry the responsibility to look after them. They should not be shirking this responsibility in favour of private companies.’
Amnesty International Aberdeen also expressed its opposition. ‘It is appalling that families fleeing for [their lives] have to then endur[e] squalid conditions in a nation that champions quality of life for all,’ a member of their committee commented.