Covid Scotland: Claim 'entire hotel' of refugees told to isolate after one positive case

A group of 54 refugees living in a Falkirk hotel have claimed that Home Office accommodation contractor Mears has instructed all of them to self isolate for ten days alone in their rooms after one asylum seeker tested positive for Covid 19.

Demonstrators take part in a Refugees Welcome rally in Glasgow last year.
Demonstrators take part in a Refugees Welcome rally in Glasgow last year.

The residents, from countries including Syria, Iran, Iraq and Yemen, say that all asylum seekers currently housed in the hotel - including those who are fully vaccinated with no symptoms - have been instructed to isolate, however, they say that staff, who have also had contact with the positive case, do not have to do so.

They say they are unable to leave their rooms for fresh air and exercise, due to being unable to call an emergency number which would allow them to do so.

Positive Action in Housing says that the move has created "growing unease" amongst residents about the amount of control that Mears – which is contracted by the UK Government to provide housing for asylum seekers across the UK - has over their freedom of movement.

However, Mears insists that only 15 people have been asked to self isolate as a result of the single case within the refugee group – plus four more cases among hotel staff. All refugees have been tested for coronavirus, with some results yet to be returned.

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Under current Scottish Government rules, if someone is fully vaccinated and returns a negative PCR test after close contact with a positive case, they can end their self isolation. If a positive case is believed to have the omicron variant, however, close contacts must isolate for ten days, regardless of vaccination status. It is not known whether the positive case is suspected of being the omicron variant, although the refugees claim this has not been suggested.

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One resident said: “I’m locked in self isolation even though I’m fully vaccinated since September. Yesterday [Monday] we were told by a Mears official that any person who is fully vaccinated or not showing symptoms will not require any self isolation, but the tone changed in the same day where all of us were forced to stay in rooms and self isolate.”

Another man said: “Why do the staff not have to self-isolate? They have been in close contact with us. They live here. Why only asylum seekers? It's unfair. I am fully vaccinated with no symptoms, but I have been forced to self isolate with others. Some of us have been threatened with the police if we try to leave our rooms.

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“It is easy to say: “Go to your room” for ten days. They do not know the suffering that we have in here. It is not easy to stay in a room 24 hours a day. We’re not working, we’re not studying, we have no activities, everyday we just sleep, we don't want to get depressed."

He added: “On Tuesday they gave us a piece of paper with a number to call if you want to leave your room. But our phones are not topped up. We can only use a Whatsapp number. So why give us a number that we can’t call? And the rules keep changing, they said you're only allowed to leave for fresh air if you are a smoker. I don't smoke. So should I smoke in order to leave the room to get fresh air?”

Robina Qureshi, director of charity Positive Action in Housing, said: “Both staff and asylum seekers reside in the hotel, yet only asylum seekers have been forced to self isolate. Asylum seekers who are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms are also not allowed to leave their rooms.

"There is growing unease about the whole situation. People who are already at crisis point are being forced to suffer more.”

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A spokeswoman for Mears said: “A hotel in Falkirk is currently being used as contingency accommodation for asylum seekers. One resident at the hotel has tested positive for Covid and four staff have tested positive.

“We have a plan in place to manage Covid at accommodation sites, which has been developed working closely with public health officials and Health Protection Scotland, and follows all government guidelines.”

She added: “We advised 15 service users on site to isolate until we could arrange tests, this was either due to them being close contacts or symptomatic. All service users who have been asked to isolate have been co-operative and are working well with our staff on site. All other service users and staff have taken tests on public health advice.

“Whilst isolating we continue to support service users, undertake daily welfare checks, provide all meals, snacks and drinks to their rooms and provide additional Covid guidance (Drs of the World) in their preferred language. We completely understand that self-isolating is difficult for our service users, as it is for anyone who is asked to do this. When we receive test results back, we will review the situation again with public health officials.”

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The Home Office had already come under fire for the decision to house the refugees in the Falkirk hotel. Council leaders warned it was totally “unsuitable”. At the start of the pandemic asylum seekers were housed in hotels in Glasgow as an emergency measure, however the decision hit controversy after a knife incident in one of the city’s hotels last year which left six people injured.

The UK Government department has previously argued that a result of the lack of volunteers for the dispersal scheme to house refugees within UK councils, it is forced to find contingency hotel accommodation.

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