Ministers are facing serious questions after a five-year-old boy whose family had recently fled the Taliban fell to his death from a ninth-floor hotel window in Sheffield.
On Thursday night, South Yorkshire police named the boy as Mohammed Munib Majeedi.
His family is understood to have arrived in Britain in recent weeks and was among a number of Afghan refugees temporarily housed at the £33-a-night Metropolitan hotel.
One hotel resident, who was an interpreter for the British in Afghanistan, said Mohammed’s father had worked at the UK embassy in Kabul. He said he heard the boy’s mother scream “my son, my son” after the child fell from the open window at about 2.30pm on Wednesday.
The Refugee Council called for the Home Office to launch an immediate investigation into the incident and whether any safeguarding assessments were carried out.
The Home Office had been told about safety concerns at the hotel, the Guardian has learned, leading to questions about why the government placed families from Afghanistan there despite the concerns local officials raised.
The Guardian has been told that the hotel was used for a short time last year as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers, but several families from Afghanistan have been placed in the hotel in recent weeks under the Home Office’s scheme to rescue those fleeing the Taliban.
Concerns had been raised previously about the safety of the hotel and its windows, which can open very wide. One guest wrote on the hotel’s Facebook page in 2019 that the windows “opened so wide I was scared my children would fall out”. She added: “Please don’t stay at this dangerous hotel.”
The budget hotel, which is being used to accommodate Afghan refugees who assisted the British authorities in their own country, was described as “absolutely disgusting”, “grimy” and “dirty” in online reviews as recently as last month.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are extremely saddened by the tragic death of a child at a hotel in Sheffield. The police are providing support to the family while the investigation continues and we cannot comment further at this time.”
The former interpreter for the British in Afghanistan said: “I was in my room. I heard a sound, like I heard the body fall. His mother was in the room with him. She was screaming: ‘My son, my son.’
“When I came here [outside] I saw the ambulance and police.”
He said the family came to the UK three or four weeks ago, landing at Birmingham airport and then staying in Manchester during Covid quarantine. The family, including the parents, three boys and two girls, moved to the hotel in Sheffield three or four days ago, and the father was regarded as “the new guy” among Afghans staying there, he said.
The interpreter added: “If the dad is working for the Americans or the English, then their lives are in danger in Afghanistan. They came here to save their lives, they came for a new life here.”
He said in his own room the windows only opened a few inches. The eight to 10 Afghan families staying at the hotel were being moved to another hotel on Thursday afternoon, he said.
On Thursday night, South Yorkshire police named Mohammed and said in a statement: “His family have now formally identified him and they are being supported by our family liaison officers. We would ask that their privacy is respected at this time. Officers are appealing for anyone with information relating to the incident to come forward.”
Dan Jarvis, the mayor of the Sheffield city region, who served for the British army in Afghanistan, said he was “desperately saddened at the appalling news”. He added: “My thoughts and deepest condolences are with his family, who will be experiencing an unimaginable pain at present.”
Terry Fox, Leader of Sheffield city council, said: “I am absolutely heartbroken that a young boy has lost his life in this way. My deepest thoughts are with the family of little Mohammed, I can’t begin to imagine what they are going through. As a council we have been at the hotel to offer assistance and, in partnership with the police, will support the family in any way we possibly can. While details are still emerging and the police continue to investigate, it’s not appropriate for me to comment further, except to say that this is an incredibly sad time.”
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “This a terrible tragedy and our thoughts are with the family who have gone through so much trauma and suffering to reach the UK.
“It is vital the Home Office carry out an urgent investigation into what has happened so steps can be taken to quickly learn lessons. We don’t know the details of the incident but it is imperative that families who come from Afghanistan are given all the support they need and housed in appropriate accommodation. They are vulnerable and often very traumatised. There should always be safeguarding assessments carried out so steps are taken to ensure nobody, especially children, is put at risk.
“We know from our work the quality of hotel accommodation is variable and there have been cases when the welfare and needs of people seeking safety in our country have been overlooked. We hope this wasn’t the case on this occasion.”
Tourists who had booked to stay in the hotel earlier this month had complained online that their bookings were suddenly cancelled. One traveller said they were told by a receptionist on 4 August that the hotel was closing in order to accommodate refugees.
OYO Rooms, which owns the Metropolitan hotel, has been approached for comment.