Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
Precariously perched on a sea of suitcases, Lidl carrier bags and bulging trash bags are an orange hardback bible, an image of calm amidst a chaotic scene of strollers, baby baths and other flimsy belongings.
It’s moving day at a London hotel used by the Home Office to house asylum seekers, and around 50 families – up to 100 people – are due to leave.
Many – distraught and in tears over the forced move – were not told their destination, while some joined members of the community, including a local school principal and a vicar, in a protest against moving in front of the hotel.
“We were told we had no choice. If we don’t go today, we will be left on the streets. I’m settled here and I’m going to university. They take away the only good thing in my life,” sobbed a woman from Afghanistan.
The Home Office has said it plans to end the use of hotels, which is costing the government more than £5million a day. Yet many of those who were told they had to board the waiting coaches say they are simply moved from one hotel to another, with some reporting four or five hotel changes over the past 18 last months.
As they load their belongings into the wagons, many look dejected and resigned. Three families refused to leave and four policemen were sent to the hotel to persuade them to leave. Eventually they do.
Leivi from Honduras holds her baby, Brittany. It’s his first birthday today. Brittany has no idea what’s going on and smiles at the camera.
A family in Turkey is upset that their eight-year-old son, who is doing well in school, will have to find a new place at school and may have to wait weeks or months before resuming his studies.
Related: Unscreened staff working in hotels housing child asylum seekers, report says
A Russian man who demonstrated against Putin with his wife says she is sick and awaiting surgery.
“Today is a terrible day,” he said. “Breastfeeding mothers cry that their milk is drying up due to the stress of moving, a father with an autistic son cries that his child will no longer be able to attend the special school he finally got a place in.”
A 13-year-old Eritrean boy fears being without school again. He arrived in the UK two years and three months ago and is now attending his fourth school, a place he loves. He learned to speak English well at his current school and is especially passionate about math and languages. Today he and his mother will be taken to their fifth hotel since arriving here.
Leah Wright, principal of John Perryn Elementary School in East Acton, is visibly upset and has joined the protest.
“At the beginning of the term, we had 15 asylum-seeking children, aged 4 to 10, enrolled in our school. This move means more trauma for many children who have already suffered enough,” she says.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Accommodation as asylum is offered without choice across the UK and we continue to ensure that the accommodation provided is safe, secure and suitable. to the needs of the individual.”
Four days later, the families have very mixed updates.
Some have been moved to a hotel in Kent. “I asked for a new place at school for my son. The board said he would get back to me. We don’t know when it will be or how far the school will be when they find one,” says the Turkish mother.
The Russian couple was transferred to the same hotel, but due to the wife’s illness they were sent back to London to another hotel after two days.
A woman who was moved to an east London hotel with the four-month-old baby she is breastfeeding has not left her room since Monday. She told Larissa Pelham of Ealing Asylum Support Enterprise, which has provided support to many west London hotel families, that the move has left her paralyzed with fear and depression. The kids in their new accommodation at the hotel say they can’t eat the food there.
The Eritrean boy was taken to a hotel with his mother on the other side of London. He is happy because he has not lost his current place in school.
“Before, I was very close to my school. Now it’s two buses and a walk and it will take me about an hour and a quarter. I will have to go to bed very early and get up very early so that I can get to school on time. I’m trying to make the new area where we moved to my hometown. I just want to have a place that I can call home and not worry about moving all the time. I hope everything will be better.”