Hundreds of asylum seekers are being housed at a large hotel near Heathrow as the Government struggles to find accommodation for passengers forced to quarantine after arriving from virus hotspots.
Ministers have so far failed to secure a single room for the scheme – intended to prevent deadly new strains of Covid-19 spreading in Britain. Yet taxpayers are spending a fortune to put up more than 400 immigrants at the four-star Crowne Plaza hotel just two miles from the UK’s biggest airport.
Astonishingly, officials have chosen not to move the asylum seekers into two nearby immigration removal centres, where there is space for more than 800 people and which would free up vital rooms for passengers required to self-isolate for ten days.
Boris Johnson last month announced plans to force arrivals from 30 ‘red list’ countries to quarantine in hotels, but the scheme has been delayed in part because of problems finding accommodation. Yet some 10,000 migrants are being housed at hotels across the UK, despite official figures showing only 290 of the 2,462 beds at seven purpose-built immigration centres are currently occupied.
Hundreds of asylum seekers are being housed at a large hotel near Heathrow as the Government struggles to find accommodation for passengers forced to quarantine after arriving from virus hotspots
At Harmondsworth, two miles from the £100-a-night Crowne Plaza, 527 beds are lying empty. There is space for a further 300 people at Colnbrook, half a mile further on. Alp Mehmet, from the Migration Watch UK think tank, said last night: ‘This is a frankly barmy situation. The Government is struggling to find hotel rooms for travellers to quarantine in, but there are hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers staying in a hotel right next to the airport. You couldn’t make it up.’
An 8ft fence was erected around the perimeter of the Crowne Plaza last summer, yet migrants last week strolled past private security guards contracted by the Home Office – many of them not wearing masks. As further evidence of the apparent indifference to safety, a hand car-wash business is operating in the hotel’s car park in contravention of lockdown rules. There is even a sign advertising the service at the nearby exit of the M4.
Migrants who have often risked their lives to reach Britain are in despair at safety measures.
‘It is not a good system – people are too close together,’ claimed Ilyat Alkaldi, 42, who fled Kuwait and completed the final leg of his journey across the Channel by dinghy from Calais. He has been housed at the hotel since October and claimed migrants roam the corridors and visit each other’s rooms. Djomou Bamou, 32, who was smuggled into the UK in a car, said: ‘We can walk around wherever we want. There are lots of people here.’
Astonishingly, officials have chosen not to move the asylum seekers into two nearby immigration removal centres (pictured), where there is space for more than 800 people and which would free up vital rooms for passengers required to self-isolate for ten days
Each room has a double bed, an en suite bathroom and flatscreen TV. Staff leave three basic meals outside rooms each day while dining areas and leisure facilities are closed. Housekeepers clean the rooms once a week.
Groups of migrants can be seen chatting on smartphones outside the hotel or strolling to a parade of shops in nearby West Drayton.
Among them was Atif Ali, 21, from Pakistan, who was smuggled into the UK in the back of a lorry after spending two years living in the infamous Jungle camp in Calais. ‘After three months here in this hotel I feel like I am going crazy,’ he said. ‘You just sleep, it’s boring.’
The apparent freedom afforded to the migrants contrasts with the draconian measures awaiting passengers who will be placed in quarantine after flying in to Britain. Government-hired security guards are expected to patrol each hotel floor to ensure compliance.
However, Government officials still need to find 28,000 rooms to accommodate them after admitting that no contracts have yet been awarded. Given its location, the Crowne Plaza and its 500 rooms might be considered an ideal location, but it has been block-booked by the Home Office until March.
Taxpayers are spending a fortune to put up more than 400 immigrants at the four-star Crowne Plaza hotel just two miles from the UK’s biggest airport
Ministers have been accused of hopelessly inadequate planning, with tender documents sent out to hotel chains only on Thursday night. Rob Paterson, the boss of Best Western, said: ‘In any normal company, if you went out and announced a programme nationally and you hadn’t thought about how you were going to plan that, and you hadn’t spoken to the people involved… I’m not sure I’d have a job if I did that in my company.’
Tory MP Sir John Hayes, a former Transport Minister, said: ‘This is a ridiculous situation. Hotels are not the best place for asylum seekers. They should be in secure accommodation or else we risk them disappearing into the black economy or being exploited.’
The Mail on Sunday has revealed how at least 20 hotels across Britain are being used to house migrants who had crossed the Channel as part of a £4 billion, ten-year contract between the Home Office and outsourcing firms.
Last night the Home Office said it is legally obliged to provide accommodation to asylum seekers. A spokesman said: ‘At all of our sites we put in place a range of measures to ensure they are safe and asylum seekers, like everyone else, must follow the coronavirus regulations.’