A victory for our Housing Group…

When our friend Aamir was forced into living in a house with rodents, mould and no hot water, our members rallied around him.  Brick by brick we are coming together to organise for better living conditions for our communities, and we won’t stop until here…

Rodents, Mould, Broken – this house is falling apart

The conditions in *Aamir’s (name changed) East London asylum accommodation was so bad that it was making him physically sick, anxious and unable to sleep.

It was infested with rodents, had no hot water, rife with mould, overcrowded, no working shower,  electricity and gas was always turning off as the metre was not kept topped up by the managing agents- making it very difficult to cook warm meals.

The electricity issues rendered kitchen appliances—including the refrigerator—dysfunctional. And the entire unit smelled of spoiled food due to old leaks on the carpeting, which was never cleaned or replaced despite residents’ multiple requests for maintenance. 

Aamir was struggling and getting nowhere with his complaints to the managing agents, Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd. 

Clearsprings Ready Homes, the managing organisation for Aamir’s accommodation, is one of the companies contracted by the Home Office to provide suitable accommodation for asylum seekers.  

They promise to deliver “safe, secure and warm [asylum] accommodation” and are contracted to do so until 2029. But the reality of living everyday in Aamir’s accommodation was anything but “safe, secure”. 

When members of Migrants Organise heard about Aamir’s situation they wanted to do something. 

Migrants Organise Housing Group

Aamir’s story is sadly too familiar for Migrants Organise. Every year we work with over 500 individuals and their families – many of them are living in asylum accommodation.

When we come together, we can change things” Migrants Organise Housing Group

Our members, the majority of whom are trapped within the asylum system- formed the “Housing Organising Group” just a few months ago.

The reality of living inside asylum accommodation is causing distress and fear. Whether this accommodation is ‘dispersal accommodation’ (often a house in multiple accommodation or ‘HMO’ ) like Aamir’s accommodation, or within hotels the reality is that people are in challenging conditions with no control over their lives. 

In ‘hotels’, people are confined to one small room for months on end, without access to kitchen or cleaning facilities, no communal space, substandard food.  The stark reality is: these places aren’t everyday hotels, they are ‘detention hotels’. 

Our members, live everyday trapped within “detention hotels’ unable to move on with their lives. 

People living stuck in this system face constant uncertainty and anxiety. Whether you are in a hotel or ‘HMO’, the threat of not knowing when and if you will be told to pack your things and move across the country with a moment’s notice is debilitating.  

The English language course you enrolled in? Forget about it. 

The playgroup your child has made friends at? No matter. 

The GP you spent weeks trying to register at? Who cares? 

The football group that helped you feel less isolated? Not essential. 

Pack up your bags and wait outside, your taxi will be outside in a few hours.  Destination? Unknown.

Enough is Enough

The Group decided to come together, to build power and fight back. They meet fortnightly to share experiences and survival strategies.

When some of the group met Aamir and after hearing his story they were restless. 

Taking action with Aamir 

Members of the group visited Aamir’s accommodation to listen to Aamir and the five other residents. They collected photos and wrote testimony through organised meetings with residents and neighbours. 

After considering different options they decided to submit a collective written complaint to Clearsprings Ready Homes.  The letter, from the residents, included a detailed list of just how bad things were- highlighting the rodents, mould and no heating or hot water. The letter was submitted via Migrant Help – the organisation sub-contracted to deal with complaints. It was clear that Clearsprings Ready Homes were breaching environmental health. 

The residents made clear demands that they wanted to see implemented within a month. 

These demands included: pest control, working hot water/heating, working shower, the deep cleaning of the carpet to remove the terrible odour from rotten food contamination, and to have clear and accountable channels of communication with the housing managers. 

The situation was so bad that it was covered by local newspaper the East London Advertiser who spoke to Aamir’s friend, Mohammed (*not real name), who also lives at the property. 

Mohammed told the reporter  “the whole house is falling apart”. 

Finally, after months of ignoring and inaction, Clearsprings were forced to listen.  

Today, nearly all of these repairs have been made to the property resulting in a real material improvement to residents’ lives. 

In a letter to the Group, Clearsrpings wrote: 

Clearsprings Ready Homes provides safe, warm, secure accommodation for our Service Users; all asylum seekers are able to access the Migrants Help service for registering complaints or request assistance 24/7. We take any complaints or issues raised by our service users and all reported concerns are investigated and actioned appropriately.“ 

How Clearsprings Profit from the Hostile Environment

Despite’s Clearsprings’ statement, our experience tells us that Aamir’s situation is far from unique. Horrific cases have also been recorded in national newspapers like this case in Hillingdon  “Housing Provider to make urgent repairs to asylum seeker flats” in the Guardian (2022) and “Animals don’t get treated like this : How asylum housing problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic” in the Independent (2020). 

Illustration by Lewisham Anti-Raids

Despite this ongoing media and public alarm over unsafe, unhygienic conditions in the properties they run, the Home Office has awarded Clearsprings £996 million in contracts for their provision of “safe, secure and warm” asylum accommodation until 2029. 

Perhaps, Clearsprings is most famous for being the company running the makeshift detention centres at Penally and Napier Barracks. At Napier, the conditions were so bad in 2021 that 350 residents reported to have gone on hunger strike. Not only was the site itself unfit for purpose, but the people who were being forced to live there were referred to only as “numbers” (not their real names), in a dehumanising project situated within the hostile environment’s racist and anti-migrant agenda.  

Whilst Penally Barracks has shut down, Napier Barracks – which has been labelled “unfit for accommodation” (The Guardian, 2021) and “unlawful”  (BBC, 2021)- remains open. 

It’s clear that Clearsprings’ business model is growing and profiting from the pain of migrants and refugees. It was reported in the Guardian that in 2022 Clearsprings recorded a “bumper profit- with their profit margins increasing sixfold to with dividends jumping from £7m to £27,987,262 a year”. The same article points out that almost 28 million of dividends is shared by its three directors. 

A quick look at this shocking Corporate Watch file (‘Clearsprings Migrant Camp profiteers’) shows that the Home Office’s outsourcing of asylum accommodation to private firms like Clearsprings begets minimal accountability—and maximal profit. 

We demand change. It’s time to put people over profit.

The Migrants Organise Housing Group is coming together to demand a change.   

Reflecting on the success of the actions the group took with Aamir, Nanou from the group said: 

“This shows that when we organise together, we can build the world we want to live in, brick by brick: a world where we have dignity and justice. But our friends in Tower Hamlets should not have to fight for the bare minimum. 

We will keep fighting to end this deliberate outsourcing of accountability that keeps us in miserable, inhumane conditions for years on end.” 

If you would like more information about the Housing Group or want to get involved please contact Maymuna@migrantsorganise.org 

Migrants Organise is a platform for migrants and refugees to organise for justice.

This work could not be done without you and your solidarity.

Donate to Migrants Organise.  Join our Newsletter.

Thank you to Lewisham Anti-Raids for the beautiful illustration.