An asylum seeker is preparing to spend his second Christmas in a Britannia hotel without being able to legally work in the UK.
The Syrian man is one of at least 250 people living a transitory existence in Coventry as they wait for their cases to be decided by the Home Office.
The hotel is accommodating men, women and children who have come from places also including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan.
It has previously been targeted by far-right activists, with police being called after they turned up at the accommodation being provided by the Home Office and its contractor, Serco.
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Other asylum seekers have previously complained that the hotel, run by the Britannia group, is inadequate for their health and dietary needs and their freedom of movement is restricted.
Hotels are intended as an initial ‘contingency’ arrangement, with the Home Office aiming to ‘disperse’ people into longer-term accommodation around the country within 35 days.
However the 32-year-old man says he is grateful for the chance of a better life and is prepared to wait as long as it takes at the Coventry Hill Hotel.
He said: ‘There are people who are getting frustrated and are asking for transfers to other places. Every day they are going to the front desk and asking what is happening. There are people who have been here eight, nine, ten months and they are angry.
‘I’m telling them to be patient and that they should be glad just to be in England and to appreciate everything this country has given us.
‘We can walk into the city and see people sleeping on the streets, we should be glad to have three meals a day and shelter. We have come to make a new life here, so we should be patient.’
The man said numbers at the hotel were increasing all the time and he estimated it was beyond the 250 asylum seekers who were thought to have been staying there in the summer.
‘There are men, women and children and two or three people in some rooms,’ he said. ‘In the past two or three weeks there have been maybe fourteen more people come here. There are families with small children.’
Recounting his journey to the UK, the man said he had fled war-ravaged Derik, which has been in the mire of conflict involving multiple states and groups since the US pulled out of the region in October.
‘My father told me to go,’ he said. ‘It was very dangerous.
‘There were different groups who wanted people to fight for them. I didn’t want to kill anyone else or be killed myself.
‘They don’t give you a choice if you want to fight.’
The migrant, who asked not to be named, says he made his way to Greece and then to Calais, where he boarded a lorry before climbing out at a service station on the other side of the Channel, where a worker called the police.
He spent the next few days at police stations and detention centres before being moved to the hotel in Rye Hill, where he gets by on a few pounds a day from the Home Office and provided meals in a restaurant area.
‘I like it in the hotel but I have no documents so I can’t work,’ he said.
‘I want to be a mechanic but I am still waiting and being patient. I don’t know why there is a delay.
‘Christmas Day will be the same as last year, I will spend it in my room. I don’t know if I will speak to my family, I haven’t spoken to them for three months.’
However, another guest, who gave his name as Dixon, has previously said at a rally in Coventry that conditions are like ‘a prison’ and debunked any myth that those housed there ‘are enjoying luxury’.
Rising demand for asylum accommodation nationally has resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Home Office moving asylum seekers to places where they can better socially distance and continuing support for those whose claims have been refused, to ensure they are not left homeless.
As of October 2020, around 9,500 asylum seekers were being accommodated in 91 hotels across the UK, according to figures cited in a briefing paper by the House of Commons Library.
Campaigners have called on the Government to allow asylum seekers to work while they wait for decisions on their status, arguing it would make huge savings. The Lift the Ban coalition, led by Refugee Action, has said that many migrants, including trained doctors, lawyers and teachers, could be making a positive contribution to British society.
The hotel, which is accepting paying bookings on its website, and another Coventry Britannia venue, the Royal Court, were targeted by Britain First on August 29. The far-right group’s attempt to protest against the temporary arrangements made for people seeking new lives in the UK resulted in police making an arrest for common assault.
The Government has commited to providing support for asylum seekers, which includes close montoring of their situation as well as staggered mealtimes and free cleaning supplies.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We have a statutory duty to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute and during the pandemic it has been necessary to use hotels as a temporary measure.
‘Asylum seekers can work in the UK if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months, through no fault of their own, but are restricted to jobs on the Shortage Occupation List.
‘We are fixing our broken asylum system to make it firm and fair. We will stop abuse of the system while ensuring it is compassionate towards those who need our help.’
Serco is understood to have received ‘very few’ complaints about food at the hotel as it caters for a culturally diverse group of people, who are subject to the same lockdown restrictions as the wider population.
Jenni Halliday, contract director for asylum accommodation, said previously: ‘The hotel in Coventry is one of several that Serco is using to accommodate the increased number of asylum seekers on behalf of the Home Office during the Covid pandemic and has a Serco support team there 24 hours per day, seven days per week.’
Metro.co.uk has approached Britannia Hotels for comment.
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