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REFUGEES SLAM SOUTHWARK'S 'HOSTEL FROM HELL'

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A rundown inner city building whose name - the London Park Hotel - suggests a rural oasis amid urban squalor is, sa...
A rundown inner city building whose name - the London Park Hotel - suggests a rural oasis amid urban squalor is, say residents, closer to a prison, reported The Observer (p11).

The multi-storey hotel is one of Britain's biggest holding centres for young male refugees, where 530 asylum-seekers wait out the months while their applications for leave to remain in Britain are processed.

A group of London Park residents spoke for the first time about life in what has been dubbed 'the hostel from hell', and described an atmosphere of gang violence, intimidation, fights, petty theft and frustration.

Most of the asylum-seekers at the hotel, in the centre of the Elephant and Castle, London's busiest traffic roundabout, have been placed there by Southwark LBC.

It pays£130 a week for each resident's board and lodging. Most are white, Christian and from Albania, Kosovo or elsewhere in the Balkans. Around 50 are Kurds from Turkey, Iran or Iraq, who claimed they are preyed on by other larger ethnic factions in the hotel.

But the biggest problem is sheer tedium. Most of the men, who are aged between 18 and 30, have nothing to do. It is illegal for them to work, and none receives any state handouts other than food and board.

Refugee groups say that the problems at the hotel are the inevitable result of the council's policy of concentrating hundreds of young men in one place. Over the next six months the government is to continue its policy of dispersing refugees across the country, preferably among their own communities.

This, however, has drawbacks, said Vaughan Jones, director of Praxis, a charity which runs English classes for some London Park residents. He recommends that families should be encouraged to take in a refugee, as they would an exchange student.

Southwark LBC has contracted the hotel to take asylum seekers for a year in a deal worth more than£3m. The business is owned by Firoz Kassam, a London-based businessman, who also owns the Holiday Inn in King's Cross, north London.

According to documents filed at Companies House, the London Park made£2.79m profit in the year to June 1999 and Mr Kassam received a director's fee of£170,000. He said the hotel was well run and provided an important public service that was good value for money.

Southwark LBC backed him. 'We have case workers at the hotel who deal with any issues raised by residents,' said an officer. 'So far no complaints have been received. Health and safety checks are carried out regularly and standards have been met.'

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