The Home Office’s director general for asylum and protection has said civil servants in her department “will feel guilt and responsibility” for the rest of their lives after a five-year-old Afghan refugee fell from the ninth-floor window of a Sheffield hotel and died.
South Yorkshire Police last week launched an investigation into the death of Mohammed Monib Majeedi, who had been staying at the hotel with his mother, father, brothers and sisters just days after fleeing the Taliban.
The tragedy prompted calls for an urgent investigation and suggestions that the Home Office had put refugees’ lives at risk by failing to ensure they were placed in safe accommodation.
Five city MPs – Paul Blomfield, Clive Betts, Olivia Blake, Gill Furniss and Louise Haigh – backed a call from the Refugee Council calling for an independent investigation into the tragedy to ensure “it is never repeated”.
The probe must establish “what was known by the Home Office about the suitability and safety of this accommodation, and what procedures were followed before commissioning its use for vulnerable families,” the MPs said.
They added: "The Home Office have a duty of care for all those who they resettle under their programmes.”
Today, in an unusual public intervention, Emma Haddad defended her department, saying staff are “heartbroken” and have been “in tears” over the boy’s death.
Writing in the Telegraph, Haddad hit out at critical media coverage that she said “has hurt my team a lot”.
Some refugees being evacuated from Afghanistan are being temporarily housed in hotels while the Home Office makes arrangements for them to be transferred to longer-term accommodation.
She said that all the hotels used by the department must “meet stringent health and safety checks” and provide detailed risk assessments to ensure they are suitable.
She said that while “none of us wants to be using hotels”, offers of housing from local authorities have not kept up with demand as officials have worked to find accommodation for thousands of refugees.
Questions have been raised about why the OYO Metropolitan hotel in Sheffield was being used, based on publicly-available information. The Guardian reported that a guest had described the hotel as “dangerous” on its Facebook page in 2019, adding that the windows “opened so wide I was scared my children would fall out”.
The budget hotel has recently been described in online reviews as “absolutely disgusting”, “grimy” and “dirty”.
But in her Telegraph article, Haddad wrote: “It is totally misleading to suggest that the Home Office does not take our responsibilities towards children in our care seriously.
“And more than that – among the desire to score political points are dedicated civil servants who will feel guilt and responsibility for this tragic death forever. Many of us are also parents. That could have been my eight-year-old. We are not faceless bureaucrats with no empathy – the emotions are overwhelming us,” she wrote.
“I can't begin to imagine the pain the family of the little boy is going through, and it will take us all a long time to process what happened. In the meantime, I and my team will continue to work night and day to provide refuge and suitable accommodation for those fleeing Afghanistan, who are in need and rely on our help.”