Mears provides accommodation and support for asylum seekers in Scotland and recently, tragically, one of our service users died in Mears supported accommodation.
The cause of death, which is not COVID-19, is now being investigated by the Scottish Crown Office and we are unable to comment further until that process completes. We have internally reviewed the actions of Mears staff and we believe that they did everything possible to support the service user from when Mears first provided accommodation. This includes the provision of a good standard of accommodation, food and essentials, access to health and welfare services, and daily check-ins from the Mears team. The Mears staff and service users affected have been offered counselling.
On the wider issue of the use of hotels, these arrangements are to protect service users during COVID-19. Once Covid-19 restrictions were announced by the UK and Scottish Government towards the end of March 2020, Mears considered how best to ensure the safety and well-being of asylum-seekers in our care, as well as our staff, and our role in helping to limit community transmission by maintaining social distancing. Asylum seekers are either in Initial Accommodation, which is when they first arrive in the City, or in Dispersed Accommodation, which is more settled. We had a particular concern about the safety and wellbeing of those in Initial Accommodation, located around the city, during COVID-19.
To reduce the need for both asylum-seekers and Mears staff to make regular journeys to and from multiple accommodation locations we considered, in discussions with the Home Office and with Glasgow City Council, providing fully serviced support in good quality hotel accommodation where we could arrange regular access to health workers and implement all guidance on COVID-19. The aim was to create a safe environment to greatly reduce the spread of Covid-19 among asylum seekers in Glasgow. Health authorities are fully aware of all measures Mears are taking.
We were able to secure occupancy of good quality hotels for the duration of the restrictions. We informed our service users and safely moved them, giving reasonable and fair notice in the context of COVID-19 and the speed of events. We kept the authorities and the charities and NGOs we work with informed, implemented their recommendations and addressed any concerns. In cases where hotel accommodation was not suitable for particular service users, due to health or other welfare considerations, they have remained in alternative accommodation. We did not move families to hotels and there are no pregnant women in the hotels.
We have worked to make people as comfortable as possible. The hotel rooms, which are at a good quality standard, all have private en-suite bathrooms, TVs and wi-fi internet access. By providing three meals a day, and all essential items directly, asylum seekers are being provided with a ‘full board’ arrangement, which means the Home Office policy is that they are not provided with additional cash. We have sought to respond to all reasonable requests for items to be provided. We also put in place arrangements to support those service users observing Ramadan.
Hotel accommodation has allowed Mears to communicate social distancing guidelines well to people. We explain to people leaving the hotel for exercise the importance of social distancing and the hotels have many posters, with translation into multiple languages, which clearly explain the latest guidance on how to reduce the risk of infection.
All those in hotels who need to, or wish to, self-isolate during this pandemic can do while having everything they require delivered to their private room. By providing food and other essential items directly to private hotel rooms, delivered by staff using suitable personal protective equipment, the risk of infection and transmission has been greatly reduced.
The timing of the transition out of lockdown is uncertain, and health service advice is to maintain ‘stable households’ at this time. We will move asylum seekers on from initial accommodation at the hotels to dispersed accommodation as soon as health guidance allows. We are actively developing the plans to move people and we will be involving all our partners and stakeholders in the process and seeking their involvement in the transition process.
At the time of writing, we have not had a single COVID-19 case amongst our service users in Initial Accommodation. We believe that is because the measures we have taken are working. It is a daily, 24 hour, challenge to protect asylum seekers during the pandemic and we appreciate the support of all our staff, the many staff and volunteers from other organisations we work with, and cooperation of our service users.
We have hosted inspection visits by ASH, The Scottish Refugee Council and the Red Cross, who have seen at first hand the quality of accommodation, care and support being provided to our service users. We would welcome any further visits and assistance to ensure that we are providing the best possible accommodation and support whilst the current restrictions apply.