Four former asylum seekers, all of whom now have refugee status in Northern Ireland, have submitted complaints to both the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and private contractor Orchard & Shipman, about the disgraceful treatment they were subjected to while under the care of the NIHE during the asylum process.

These complaints, which date back to two years ago, come on the heels of a Westminster inquiry into the practices of Orchard & Shipman in England and Scotland following media reports about the treatment of asylum seekers in Glasgow.   

The refugees, who for safety reasons must be kept anonymous, only felt safe raising their issues once they had been granted protection for fear of reprisals and victimisation. The treatment outlined in their complaints includes detailed instances of bullying, harassment and unacceptable living conditions including:

  • Orchard & Shipman staff entering homes and bedrooms of asylum seekers without announcing arrival or requesting entry
  • shouting and bullying behaviour of staff inducing a climate of fear and insecurity
  • cold and unhealthy housing conditions which caused repeated sickness for a one year old child
  • providing inappropriate accommodation for asylum seekers who have specific medical and health needs – even following periods of hospitalisation
  • providing homes which are unhealthy and in filthy conditions

The four refugees have come forward as they are concerned for others who are currently in this position and too afraid to speak out. In their statement they state that despite their treatment:

“we can all say, without hesitation, that we have received a warm and friendly welcome from the people of Northern Ireland. We do not believe that [our treatment] reflects the attitudes within wider society, or [the] actions would be tolerated if people in positions of power and responsibility were made aware. That is why we bring it to your attention.”

Dessie Donnelly of PPR who support the asylum rights campaign Housing4All and the complainants said the lack of political oversight in the north makes the asylum process rife for abuse:

“Asylum policy is an excepted matter and not in the power of Stormont to change. But we do have responsibilities for housing and for how extremely vulnerable people seeking asylum are treated in our jurisdiction. These complaints indicate systemic failings and disgraceful abuses of power – they require a response which provides remedies ensuring this will not be tolerated and measures taken to root out this behaviour. The Stormont Executive should act now to establish an Ad-Hoc Committee on Asylum Seekers, as is within their power, to create an element of accountability in Northern Ireland.

The complaints have been sent to NIHE and Orchard & Shipman, and copied to the First & Deputy First Ministers, the Minister for Communities, Yvette Cooper MP (Chair of the Home Affairs Committee) and main UK Home Office contractor SERCO.

Asylum seekers live in accommodation provided on a ‘no choice basis’ and are forbidden from working, cannot access benefits and receive only £36.95 a week. They have no option but to accept the housing that is offered. Housing is provided by the Home Office, but the delivery is outsourced to a range of companies throughout the UK – many with a background in prisons.

In Northern Ireland, this is contract out to the NIHE, Several reports, including by MPs, have consistently raised concerns about the quality of accommodation and the harassment/intimidation by staff throughout.

If you are aware of similar cases, or have had similar experiences, please get in touch with Housing4All at 90313315.