‘An amazing feeling’: asylum seeker stuck in hotel thanks Observer readers for sending books

An asylum seeker who has spent almost 500 days stranded in a Berkshire hotel has thanked Observer readers for their generosity after he was inundated with books.

Last week Ali featured in an article articulating life in limbo for the 37,000 asylum seekers living in hotels, with the Kurdish Iranian lamenting that the one thing he craved to relieve the tedium was a book to read.

Scores of readers have responded by offering books or book tokens while the University of Reading stepped forward to offer the 34-year-old a pass to its library.

Ali, who crossed the Channel in a small boat in July 2021 after fleeing religious persecution in Iran, also revealed his dream was to study until he was allowed to work in the UK.

The University of Reading is now looking into its admissions process to offer Ali a place on a course and ways to waive the £90 fee for non-university members to withdraw books.

“The reaction to the article was amazing. English people are very kind and I received lots of lovely messages, it was an amazing feeling for me,” Ali said.

“I really appreciate it. I’ve also received some books that are great, at least I have something to do.

“Someone standing in the queue for the bus said: ‘Oh you were in the newspaper, I know who you are!’ That was amazing.”

The Refugee Council, which has been in touch with Ali, said the response from readers was at stark odds with the government’s attitude to small boat arrivals.

The council’s fundraising director, Tamsin Baxter, said: We know from our work that many people in the UK want to support refugees, and it was really inspiring to see how many readers reached out to Ali.

“Hostile rhetoric can make life much harder for the people we work with. However, we find the public often wants to welcome refugees into our communities.”

The heartwarming reaction comes amid growing tensions over the Home Office’s reliance on hotels to house asylum seekers for long periods.

On Friday two English councils – Ipswich and East Riding in Yorkshire – failed in attempts to block asylum seekers from being relocated to hotels in their areas. Reports on Saturday suggested another eight local authorities are also considering legal action against the Home Office over “unsafe” hotels for asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, Stockport council revealed asylum seekers “cooped up” in a hotel faced a scabies outbreak and “inhumane treatment”.

Ali added: “I want people to understand the situation we are in. I hope my words will go some way towards stopping the unfair criticism of all asylum seekers.”