Rights watchdog blasts UK government after migrant hunger strike

Rights watchdog blasts UK government after migrant hunger strike
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor says the hunger strike reflects a wider problem facing asylum seekers in the UK.
3 min read
17 February, 2021
Around 40 asylum seekers went on hunger strike in the UK in early February [Getty]

A leading rights watchdog has said that a hunger strike by asylum seekers in the UK to protest poor food supplies should "raise attention" to what it described as the British government’s neglect of their mental and physical health.

Around 40 asylum seekers held in a hotel in southeast England went on hunger strike in early February after being served small portions of food lacking in nutrition by a government contractor.

They said that the inadequate food supplies had taken a toll on their health. A 24-year-old migrant, Salahe Lakhdar, told Sky News that he had lost weight as a result and that many others migrants had to be hospitalised "with medical problems".

The hunger strike was also held in protest against delays to the processing of asylum claims. Some asylum seekers said they had been waiting in their rooms for over eight months.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor – an organisation that advocates for human rights across Europe and the MENA region - says the situation mirrors a wider problem for asylum seekers in the UK.

Read also: Rights group calls for urgent intervention over Malta's 'gravely inhumane treatment' of refugees

In a press release on Tuesday, the Euro-Med Monitor said complaints over living conditions and inadequate food were widespread in the UK, citing a woman in London who said her young daughter had experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of poor food.

"She hasn't eaten healthy food for over five months - no vegetables, no fresh milk, no cheese, no egg, no fish” she said.

The rights watchdog reminded the UK of its obligation to uphold the right to adequate food provision, as enshrined in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), to which it is bound.

"Food is a meaningful lens showing the degree of hospitality, or inhospitality, of a place. The poor quantity, variety and quality of food provided in different reception centers in UK make asylum seekers remember their neglected position at every meal" said Michela Pugliese, Legal Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor.

"After months and months of being disregarded and stuck in a limbo, asylum seekers are just asking for some solid consideration", she added.

Euro-Med Monitor called on the UK to ensure food provided in asylum seeker reception facilities fulfils standards required under Article 11 of ICESR, particularly "a mix of nutrients for physical and mental growth, development and maintenance, and physical activity that are in compliance with human physiological needs."

It also urged the UK to respect asylum seekers' right to have a fair hearing and not to leave them in a "state of prolonged uncertainty" as a result of extended asylum procedures.

The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment by The New Arab.

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