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MDX students fight for better food at asylum seekers' hotels

19/12/2023
A Human Rights graduate and a Fine Art student have helped asylum seekers campaign for better conditions at the Barnet hotels where they and their families are being put up

Professor Eleonore Kofman, Dr Lisa Marzano and BA Fine Art student Vida Baradarannia from Middlesex University and Blue Weiss from Barnet Citizens with Vida's clock artwork

Professor Eleonore Kofman, Dr Lisa Marzano and BA Fine Art student Vida Baradarannia from Middlesex University and Blue Weiss from Barnet Citizens with Vida's clock artwork

Two Middlesex University students are helping asylum seekers fight for better conditions at the hotels where they and their families are being housed.

Fru Ndemeno-Tegomoh, who graduated with a Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights Law, and BA Fine Art student Vida Baradarannia have campaigned for better food for people who are being put up in hotels in Barnet while they claim asylum.

While placement of asylum seekers in hotels and the contractor that manages the hotels are a Home Office responsibility, Barnet Council has been working with its voluntary and community frontline sector partners to do what it can locally to help.

Council leader Barry Rawlings has agreed to meet hotel managers and speed up food safety inspections to check standards at the accommodation as a result of the campaign.

“It’s very painful when you see people who are suffering.” BA Fine Art student Vida Baradarannia

The campaigners have also got ventilation improved at one hotel and set up a weekly ‘Home from Home’ club at Finchley Progressive Synagogue, which provides food, children’s activities and friendship for the hotel residents.

Fru wrote a report analysing the human rights issues raised by the asylum seekers and helped gather photographs of the food provided to them, written complaints and medical records, which were used in a petition calling for better conditions.

An example of the food served at one of the hotels

An example of the food served at one of the hotels

The asylum seekers said the food wasn't good enough

The asylum seekers said the food wasn't good enough

The 29-year-old said: “I'm very proud of the progress we made on the campaign.

“While there is still a way to go in order to ensure that asylum seekers in Barnet have their needs met with respect to the food they are provided, the campaign and the stakeholders working on it have done an outstanding job of advocating for those on the margins and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to serve alongside them.”

Vida produced an artwork in the form of a clock, which was displayed at the meeting with Barnet Council, as the campaigners asked for help from the authority to pressure the Home Office and the contractor providing the accommodation to make improvements.

The words ‘Food’, ‘Travel’, ‘Housing’ and ‘Work’ were written on the clockface and it was decorated with symbols, including musical notes and hands.

Vida, 47, who is a Student Voice Leader, Student Learning Assistant, Honor Student Ambassador and International Student Ambassador, said: “It’s very painful when you see people who are suffering due to food, which is not fair.

“I believe that the Government, instead of focusing on other things, first of all they need to have enough budget for food and travel.

“Already they are suffering from a lack of money but now they are suffering from more.”

Fru met with the asylum seekers a number of times to listen to their concerns and helped develop an action plan to determine how to win improvements.

One of the meetings with Asylum seekers

One of the meetings with Asylum seekers

Fru Ndemeno-Tegomoh

Fru Ndemeno-Tegomoh

Former MDXSU Networks Coordinator Aqsa Ahmed also co-chaired one of the meetings with asylum seekers.

The petition and Fru’s report were presented to Barnet Council at a meeting last month.

At the meeting, which was also attended by MDX Professor of Psychology Lisa Marzano and Professor of Social Policy Eleonore Kofman, Mr Rawlings agreed to write to the Home Office outlining the issues at the hotels, attend each hotel and meet with managers to discuss the issues with food and insist safeguarding mechanism are displayed clearly in multiple languages on the walls.

He also agreed to look into food quality inspections.

Dr Marzano, who is theme director for equity and improvements in health and wellbeing, said: “I’m really proud of Middlesex University’s involvement in Barnet Citizens and of our students’ work on this important campaign.

“Fru’s fantastic legal work was crucial to the success the campaign has had so far, demonstrating the real-world experience a postgraduate degree with Middlesex University offers.”

The campaign is being coordinated by Barnet Citizens, which is a charity that helps local people fight for their rights and improvements to their lives, in partnership with New Citizens Gateway and the Persian Advice Bureau. These are two local charities focused on supporting refugees and people seeking asylum, and are funded by Barnet Council to provide outreach support in the hotels.

Blue Weiss, Associate Community Organiser for Barnet Citizens, said: “Alongside our partners, we are proud to be working with asylum seekers who are making their voices heard.

“The issue of food in the hotels is significant, but the response from the community has been great.

“We hope - with the Council's support - we can bring about change.”

Middlesex University is a strategic partner of Barnet Citizens and MDXSU led the charity through a number of successes, including supporting the refugees being resettled by Barnet Council. 50 Syrian refugees have been resettled in 2016 and 50 Afghan refugees were welcomed in 2022.

Partly due to this work, and the borough’s proud history of welcoming displaced people, Barnet Council has now applied to be recognised as a ‘Borough of Sanctuary’.

As a result of the most recent campaign, the air con units were checked in more than 150 hotel rooms, resulting in a number being fixed and one unit replaced.

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