Charities say children of refugees and asylum seekers are taking lessons at Hotel Car Park in Manchester because no space has been found at the local school.
More than a hundred children are believed to have fled with their families from countries including Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and Syria, with the Home Office keeping them in various hotels in the city awaiting news of their asylum application.
Dr Reta Moran, founder of the Manchester-based charity Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research (RAPAR), said the volunteers were teaching children in the car park of a hotel where they live. He called on the Manchester City Council – as well as the outsourcing firm Cerco, which has a Home Office agreement to provide accommodation in this part of the UK – to address the issue urgently.
Moran says: “Many of these children have been victims of war and abuse. Since then they have had a painful journey to the UK and upon arrival they have experienced long delays in our asylum and immigration arrangements. ”
A resident of a Manchester hotel, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian that about 30 children, mostly of Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, Yemeni and Sudanese descent, lived in the same compound as him, and some were waiting. At least six months for a school place.
“They have two hours of formal‘ Esol ’English lessons every week,” he said. “But often it is up to one or two teachers – sometimes even adults – to adjust learning for children of different nationalities, ages, backgrounds and levels.”
He said the lessons learned in the temporary car park classrooms were “very unorganized, with a mix of volunteers and residents”, but “it is very important for children who are at a critical stage of development”.
Another resident of the same hotel added: “Sometimes they are doing some supervising math with chalk on the ground, or the residents sharing their skills like art or sewing. It’s informal, but kids are annoyed and excited without it. It’s also good for them to build their social skills by interacting with other kids. “
Moran, who has worked with asylum seekers in Manchester for two decades, says children are failing by the system, adding: Impossible work whose English may not be strong.
“It often falls to charitable volunteers to help fill out these forms, which are then sent to the city council for processing.”
Madeleine Summerfield, a volunteer at the charity Care 4 Calais and Hotel Lead for a premises elsewhere in Manchester, says resources for young asylum seekers and refugees have been expanded across the region. The number of people and the availability of space varies between each hotel and city council, he said, focusing on some Afghan refugees, some on Ukrainians and others on “mixed” asylum seekers.
Summerfield added: “Conflicts between local and national policy can make things difficult, but in the end the focus should be on ensuring that all children have the opportunity to be educated and integrated.”
A spokesman for Manchester City Council said: “All staff at the hotels where the families have been accommodated have been instructed to apply for a school place in Manchester and are aware of the need to apply for a place to enter a local school. They have a direct connection to Manchester’s education services.
“In this academic year alone, the council has placed more than 400 refugee and asylum-seeking children in schools and colleges. This includes commissioning places in secondary schools outside Manchester where they did not have enough space in the local area. “
A spokesman for the education department said: “We must do everything possible to welcome refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to the conflict. We hope that every school-age child who arrives here will start going to school soon.
“We believe that the best place for all children to be educated is school and attendance will help children integrate into the communities in which they live.”