Asylum seeker hotel tragedy was 'avoidable', refugee inquiry finds
A lockdown hotel tragedy in which an asylum seeker was shot dead after stabbing several people "could have been avoided" if a Home Office contractor had not moved people from their homes, an inquiry has found.
But after more than two years, it is still not known why the vulnerable men, women and children were moved from private flats to budget hotel rooms when the pandemic started, with their cash support cut off.
Baroness Helena Kennedy KC's independent report, published today, found "it would appear that commercial imperatives were put ahead of human needs".
The inquiry heard from a former police officer seeking sanctuary with his mother, a respected political leader, and a man left fighting for life when his intestines were exposed in the knife attack.
Six people suffered wounds at the hotel in Glasgow city centre, with perpetrator Badreddin Abdalla Adam shot dead by police.
The inquiry heard that the reception was left "running with blood" and one man, named only as Mo, was left with his intestines exposed after Adam attacked.
A leaked Home Office review revealed the Sudanese man had contacted authorities about his health and accommodation more than 70 times before the incident.
Other asylum seekers moved to the hotel also raised serious concerns about his mental health and the incident happened after another man, Syrian torture survivor Adnan Elbi, was found dead in another city hotel after unsuccessfully seeking help for his own wellbeing.
The charity Refugees For Justice commissioned Kennedy to hold an independent probe into asylum provision in Scotland after the UK Government refused to launch a full public inquiry.
It reveals a damning catalogue of failures, including a "striking and clear" deterioration in the mental health of those moved to hotels during Covid, and a "culture of fear" in which asylum seekers were scared to speak up or raise complaints, believing this would damage their claims for sanctuary.
This is despite good relationships people asylum seekers and residents in Glasgow, the inquiry heard.
And it calls for Home Office contractor Mears to establish a £5m-a-year fund to pay for essential mental health and trauma support for asylum seekers it houses through its £1bn government contract.
The report stated: "The panel concluded that the tragic events at Park Inn that resulted in this inquiry, in all likelihood, could have been avoided had people been allowed to stay in their flats and apartments during lockdown; been continued to be provided with the routine cash payments they had received prior to the moves; and allowed to continue to live their lives with the same restrictions as the rest of the population during that period."
The probe could not compel the Home Office or Mears to give evidence and Kennedy and Refugees For Justice are calling for a full public inquiry.
Kennedy said: "I have still to find out how this decision was made, who made it, did the Home Office make it, was it decision made by a commercial entity?
"Whose convenience was being considered?"
Mears has said that it moved asylum seekers on pandemic control grounds, fearing for the safety of staff who would have to visit various premises. In its internal report, the Home Office said that rationale "appears sound".
However, Kennedy's report questions this, saying local authorities had some of the same challenges but did not make the same decision for the people they served.
And she criticised the Home Office's handling of asylum and immigration after the backlog in asylum cases grew 15 times faster than the increase in arrivals, due to what she described as an understaffed department badly affected by cuts. She said: "This is not about volumes of people, this is about a government that has completely lost control of the processes."
On the contracting of provisions for asylum seekers, she said: "The commercial sector is profiting from pain and is providing a means by which the United Kingdom government is able to muddy the waters about who has ultimate responsibility and where the human rights obligations actually lie."
A Home Office spokesman said: "This incident in Glasgow was truly horrific and our thoughts are with those affected.
"We have since made significant changes to keep asylum seekers safe, including how we, our contractors and charities identify vulnerable individuals and ensure they are fully supported.
"We are dealing with an unprecedented increase in asylum cases but despite this we continue to ensure that the accommodation provided is safe, secure and leaves no one destitute."
Meanwhile, Mears said "onsite health and welfare support" was available to those in its care, and a "good standard" of accommodation was provided.
A spokesman said: "We have now been able to reduce hotel use in Glasgow but in common with local authorities and the Scottish Government, we continue to need to use hotel accommodation across Scotland.
"This is due to rising need and a shortage of suitable accommodation in the community. We are working with local authorities and others to procure accommodation as quickly as possible."