Social Justice

Vulnerable sex-trafficking survivor evicted into below-zero temperatures by Home Office

The government has promised not to evict refugees from asylum hotels in freezing weather. But a survivor of sex trafficking has been made to leave her hotel with temperatures dipping to -2C

Home Office, James Cleverly

Home Secretary James Cleverly's department has said it won't evict asylum seekers during freezing weather. Image: UK Government/Flickr

A vulnerable refugee was evicted from an asylum hotel into freezing cold temperatures, despite a Home Office pledge to stop evictions during extreme cold weather, The Big Issue has learned.

The woman, a vulnerable survivor of sex trafficking, was told to leave her accommodation on Monday (16 January) by staff at a London hotel run by Clearsprings.

She was only prevented from sleeping on the streets in -2C temperatures by the intervention of Shelter and local charity West London Welcome.

“We are talking about someone the government has just granted protection to in this country”, Leyla Williams, deputy director of West London Welcome, told The Big Issue. “She shouldn’t be evicted into -2 temperatures.”

The woman, described as “extremely vulnerable” is “somebody who we are concerned would be at risk of being re-trafficked” were she to end up on the street, Williams added.

As The Big Issue revealed in December, the Home Office has back-stepped on its policy, designed to speed the clearing of the asylum backlog, by pausing evictions from government funded accommodation while SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) is active.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan activated SWEP, which means councils must accommodate all rough sleepers, on Friday (12 January). It remains active this week, with temperatures dropping as low as -5C in the capital.

The Home Office eventually intervened in the case and said the woman should stay in her asylum hotel – but hours after she had already been evicted, at 7.30pm. She had already left at the insistence of staff, Williams claimed.

“If you are a really vulnerable victim of sex trafficking,” said Williams, “you are not going to contest that.

“If we hadn’t spent a whole day [helping her] she would’ve been on the streets in the freezing cold.”

To satisfy Rishi Sunak’s promise to clear the legacy asylum backlog and close the hotels, the Home Office began rapidly processing asylum claims and shortened the time given to newly-recognised refugees to find new accommodation.

The resulting wave of evictions, many at short notice, resulted in shocking numbers of refugees being pushed onto the streets.

Its decision to pause evictions during SWEP was branded an acknowledgement of the impact of the policy.

The Big Issue has contacted Clearsprings and the Home Office for comment.

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