Dozens of asylum seekers have staged a protest inside a Greenwich hotel where they have been for 18 months, after being given just a few hours’ notice that they were due to be moved to Bedfordshire.
Four police cars, a police van and an ambulance arrived at the scene of the protest and some officers entered the hotel. One asylum seeker was arrested, handcuffed and taken away in a police van.
It is understood that more than 130 asylum seekers were living at the hotel. They were told on Monday evening that they would be moved to a new hotel in Bedfordshire the following morning.
Many are studying, volunteering and have established community links in the area and were distressed about being uprooted at such short notice. One young man who has just turned 18 uses a wheelchair and is undergoing treatment at a London hospital.
A charity worker who is supporting the asylum seekers in the hotel said: “I am really disgusted with how they are being treated. It is shameful.”
Separately, a legal challenge is being considered to try to halt the enforced move of 40 Afghan refugee families from a London hotel to one hundreds of miles away in the north of England.
Another protest has taken place about an enforced move from a west London hotel to a hotel outside London last October. Children were settled in a local school and the headteacher of the school joined the demonstration. Ultimately, all the asylum seekers were moved.
One asylum seeker, who has remained at the Greenwich hotel, said: “They came to us without prior notice. I have a medical condition. I cannot leave this place.
“I fled war in my country. I have just started to rebuild my life here and now I have to be uprooted again.”
One Eritrean asylum seeker who reluctantly agreed to move from the Greenwich hotel to the one in Bedfordshire, and did not join in with the protest, said he was distraught about the enforced move but felt he had no choice but to go.
“I was part way through a maths GCSE at the local college,” he said. “I won’t be able to continue with that now. I feel like time is slipping away from me.
“I can try to register at a college near where the Home Office has moved us to in Bedfordshire but I’ll have to wait until September and maybe by then the Home Office will have moved us again.
“I was attending a local Eritrean church where I was getting a lot of support and now I’ve lost contact with that support network. I don’t think there are any Eritrean churches in the place they’ve moved us to. One of my friends who agreed to the move yesterday was so stressed they had to take him to hospital.
“We came to the UK looking for freedom but the reality is not like that. I’ve lost my friends, my community, my college with this move. I’ve lost everything. The system is broken.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We continue to provide safe accommodation for destitute asylum seekers who need it as we work to end the use of hotels, which are costing UK taxpayers almost £6m a day.
“Individuals housed in our accommodation may be moved to other locations in line with the allocation of accommodation guidance.”