Home Office challenged over 'prison-like' conditions for asylum seekers in Belfast

The Home Office has been challenged over claims of 'prison-like' conditions in some hotels which are housing asylum seekers in Belfast.

South Belfast SDLP MLA Claire Hanna made the claim during a debate at Westminster Hall on the use of hotels as contingency accommodation.

Around 1000 people seeking asylum are currently housed in hotels, with 15% of hotels in Belfast being used in this way.

Claire Hanna spoke out to criticise the length of time the asylum process can take, with 5 years waits for some.  She said the conditions for people, while they wait, can be oppressive.

She said: "Behind the statistics is one of my constituents, Mustafa, who has been living in one room with his wife, Linda, and their three boys. They spend most of their days in their room. They eat at set mealtimes, and are unable to choose what to eat.

"They are unable to have the simple family pleasure of shared mealtimes. They all have to go to bed at the same time, or lie in silence. That is as close to imprisonment as is possible without actually being incarcerated."

UTV has recently spoken to a number of asylum seekers who told us of their concerns about "restrictive living conditions".

Mears, the company that manages the accommodation for the Home Office, has said the welfare of service users is of the utmost importance.

At Westminster earlier the Home Office acknowledged that processing times are unacceptably high.

But Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said record numbers of people are putting the system under pressure.

He said that the Home Office was engaging with authorities to address the waits and improve the system.

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