A MAN who fled his Caribbean home after being put on a hit list by criminals says he feels like a prisoner after living in a Gloucestershire hotel for the past eight months.
David Smith, not his real name, boarded a flight to the UK on Christmas Day last year. The former prison officer had to flee his home country after criminals released his name and address and he was put on a hit list.
After two of his colleagues were killed, Mr Smith decided to leave and seek asylum in the UK. On arrival at Gatwick Airport, he made himself known to immigration officers and requested asylum.
“I was a prison officer and the crime rate where I’m from is very high. My name and that of other officers were put on a hit list by prisoners. They’ve already killed two of my colleagues and they were shooting at our houses.
“Christmas was a really tough time for us. When your full name and full address is on a hit list you have no choice but to leave.
“They can find you and kill you at any time. It was very unsafe for me and my family and I had to do the logical thing and leave.”
However, since then, Mr Smith says he has been stuck in what he thought would be short term accommodation.
He has been living in a hotel room in Gloucestershire, is given three meals a day and £8 a week and says his situation is really starting to affect his mental health.
“Nothing has changed since December. They put me in temporary accommodation which is supposed to be for a few weeks to a month before being put in a more long term arrangement.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve only been in temporary accommodation which is supposed to be short term. While I’m in here, I can’t cook anything, I can’t do things for myself, it’s just three meals a day and the food is absolutely rubbish.
“The hotel staff treat you like they want and you cannot leave the hotel for more than 24 hours. It’s like you’re a prisoner but you’re not a prisoner. You can go anywhere you want but the Home Office insists that you must return within 24 hours.
“If my asylum seeking process takes a year and a half or almost two years, are they really expecting me to stay in this hotel for that amount of time?
“It’s very frustrating being in this room the whole day. You may have some friends living around England and you’d like to visit them for three or four days and come back.
“I was told that the hotel accommodation would only be a temporary set-up. It’s not meant to last this long. You get £8 a week and you can’t really do anything with it.
“I’m not running away, I would be giving the address of the place where you are going. It’s just something to help your mental health. Being in this room the whole day really gets to you.
“I find it extremely inhumane the way they are treating us. I have done nothing wrong. I came to seek refuge because my life was in serious danger.
“I bought a plane ticket and I came here legally so why am I being treated like a prisoner. The Home Office has no idea what it feels like to sit in a hotel for the entire day just doing nothing, watching your life waste away waiting on a decision.
“I get extremely depressed. Sometimes I think whether it would have been a better option if I had stayed in my country facing death because this is not living, this is simply wasting away for a decision that is not even guaranteed.
“I do understand the backlog of asylum seekers to process and the wait list is extremely long, I do understand everything is a process, but what I cannot understand is me just wanting to rest my head for a couple days without fear of losing the hotel accommodation or feeling threatened that I can’t leave the hotel for more than 24 hours.”
A Home Office spokesperson said asylum seekers are provided safe, secure accommodation funded by the UK taxpayer.
And nobody is detained in their accommodation and asylum seekers are free to come and go as they please, they said.
“There are many factors that can delay and contribute to the length of time to process asylum claims. Some applications have complex needs, such as safeguarding issues or where they have had a modern slavery claim attached to their claim.
“We therefore take full consideration of these facts when prioritising and progressing outstanding asylum claims and that can lead to longer waiting times for some.”
The Home Office says requests from asylum seekers to stay elsewhere overnight will always be considered, however anyone who is considered to be an absentee from initial accommodation will be considered as such.
The Home Office also says they are recruiting more decision makers and improving their use of digital technology to simplify case working and speed up processing times.
They claim the New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system to make it fair but firm, enabling them to offer support to those most in need while returning those without a genuine right to remain in the UK.
Mr Smith’s real name and country of origin have not been included in this article for his safety.