Asylum seekers living in Falkirk hotel say they are left in limbo

Asylum seekers who have been living in a former Falkirk hotel for months waiting for their applications to be processed have spoken of their despair at living in limbo for so long.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 27th May 2022, 2:02 pm

The Cladhan Hotel has been used as a place for asylum seekers by the Home Office since last November and currently there are 50 men waiting to have their applications heard.

Many have been there for months, but with another 60-plus having just arrived at the Metro Hotel at Beancross Farm, a local charity group helping them has warned that Falkirk lacks the kind of support they need.

The asylum seekers have all left war-torn countries and dictatorships including Eritrea, Syria and Yemen.

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Lord Lieutenant of Stirling and Falkirk Alan Simpson visiting Friends of Scottish Settlers at Christ Church, Falkirk

On Saturday, some of them met a representative of the Queen, who was in Falkirk to find out what volunteers with Friends of Scottish Settlers (FOSS) are doing to help refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.

For some of the asylum seekers it was a chance to tell of their frustration at living in limbo for so long – unable to work and with no money to go anywhere or do anything.

Emma Kapusniak, says she volunteers with FOSS because she is angry at the way the asylum seekers are being treated.

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Lord Lieutenant of Stirling and Falkirk Alan Simpson talking to those attending the Friends of Scottish Settlers at Christ Church, Falkirk

She said: “I think people think it sounds good staying in a hotel but actually they are staying in a small room with no access to a kitchen and no money to go anywhere.

“I don’t think that anybody realises they only get £8 a week to spend. I don’t think somewhere like Falkirk is the right place to send them because there just isn’t the infrastructure here.”

With no money, the asylum seekers have no way to buy clothes or trainers and Emma collects clothing that she takes to the Cladhan to see what they need.

FOSS members appreciate that there is little they can do to help the situation – sometimes all they can do is provide some company and try to break the depressing monotony of hotel life.

Many of FOSS’s volunteers help the asylum seekers learn English – but on Saturday the tables were turned with the men tasked with teaching the volunteers some of their languages.

The volunteers were then tested to see who had learned the most – with the prize going to the best asylum seeker ‘teacher’.

“The prize will be an orange – because they don’t get a lot of fresh fruit at the hotel and we notice that when we take them citrus fruits they are really appreciated,” said Jessica Paterson, FOSS’s chairperson.

At one table a group of Eritreans are chatting to a volunteer and teaching her the word for plane.

Polite and friendly, Daniel tells me he has a degree in climate science and secured a place at Strathclyde University to study software development – but he can’t take it up because he doesn’t have a permanent address in Glasgow.

Across the table is another softly spoken Eritrean – a physics teacher. They have both fled political persecution in Eritrea – widely criticised as being one of the most repressive regimes in the world – but their claims for asylum have still not been heard after months in Belfast and now in Falkirk.

Daniel, who speaks good English, tries to keep himself occupied and often goes to the library to study. For others it is not so easy and many of the men end up spending most of the time sleeping, he says.

“There is a lot of depression,” he says. “It is very boring and we have been here for months. We were told it would be a few weeks but some of us have been here for six months.”

FOSS is one of several organisations trying to help the asylum seekers.

It gets volunteers from the community to spend some time with the men, helping those who need it to practice their English or go for walks – anything that will help the time pass a bit more quickly.

Saturday’s visit should have been made by Lord Hodge, the Lord High Commissioner, who will represent the Queen at this year’s Church of Scotland General Assembly.

He has been asked by Her Majesty to find out what churches are doing to help refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland and had hoped to meet volunteers with Friends of Scottish Settlers (FOSS), until his visit was cancelled by Covid.

His place at Saturday’s event in Christ Church, the Episcopalian church on Kerse Lane, was taken by the Lord Lieutenant, Alan Simpson, who took time to chat to asylum seekers and volunteers.

The Lord Lieutenant welcomed the asylum seekers – but he also had to tell them that it was not in his power to help.

He told them: “I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave your country and come here where the language is different, the culture is different, the people are quite different – and it’s cold and wet!”

But, he stressed, that while he represents the Queen, he has no power – all decisions made were by politicians, while the Queen was “not allowed to meddle in politics”.

“I’m afraid I have to follow her, so I can’t help you making the case for you or fill out forms and so on but I do wish you all well as you do so.

“We really appreciate the mixture of cultures – when you come here and learn about us, we want to learn about you because that can enrich our lives and improve this country,” he told them.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.