Asylum seekers in Scotland have set up their own residents’ association to promote the interests of all residents in asylum seekers’ housing.
They will have an open day on Saturday 16 November at Alive and Kicking’s building in Red Road, Glasgow. The organisers will provide information about housing and carry out a survey to gauge how satisfied people are with current arrangements.
Called Scottish Asylum Seekers Residents’ Association, the organisation will liaise between the accommodation provider and the resident. It will also support individuals who wish to raise concerns about housing conditions or needs.
Established in 2009, the Association is run by people from a variety of troubled countries around the world. They have a wide range of cultures and languages but all are resident in Scotland.
Originally the Association worked with the YMCA or Ypeople who originally provided housing for Glasgow’s asylum seekers. That multi million pound contract is now held by Serco with Orchard and Shipman Housing as the local operator.
Awareness of fundamental Human Rights would help eradicate much of the inequality being experienced in Scotland today.
Glasgow Human Rights Network gave a platform to three leading exponents of the theme: Poverty is a Human Rights violation. Hosted in Glasgow City Chambers and welcomed by Bailie Jim Scanlon, the event attracted around 50 people on Thursday 17 October 2013.
Kate Lauchlin – a seasoned community campaigner in Partick and now working on her PhD on Human Rights at the University of the West of Scotland, set the scene: ‘Not only is it an outrage that poverty is a violation of Human Rights, it is enshrined in international law that poverty is a violation of Human Rights.’ United Nations conventions, continental ‘groupings’ and national constitutions all set down human rights. But those international conventions the UK has signed, are still awaiting ratification in many cases, she pointed out.
Among the intrinsic human rights are the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to a home which includes local family and community interaction and is much more than just a ‘house’; the right to a free choice to work, the right to social security, the right to take part in cultural life.
An illustration of a dove carrying human rights on its wings but with the bird encased in a cage, summed up the UK’s position on human rights for her, she said.
Part of the solution was for the country to ‘invest in the human rights culture. It matters.’ She said: ‘As far back as 2009 the United Nations’ Economic and Social and Cultural Rights inspectorate was concerned with the low level of awareness of human rights in the UK among all strata of society.’ If human rights were to be integrated into something like the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, it would make a difference.
Another speaker was Tricia McConalogue of Bridging the Gap an organisation working in the Gorbals supporting refugees and asylum seekers.
She said that people needed to challenge the frequently presented- often Government originated – ideas that people in poverty could be used as a scapegoat. ‘If this isn’t challenged, it is accepted as fact and that is simply not the truth,’ she said.
Having been most of the day standing outside the City Chambers at the Poverty Stone in George Square hearing testimony from people in poverty, Tricia elected to sit to share her thoughts and experience.
She said: ‘Poverty today in Glasgow is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime.’ She gave details of individual situations when people receiving food from a foodbank could not afford to cook it. Of people being ‘sanctioned’ at the Job Centre even when they had found a job. Sanctioned means that person would be denied any benefits for a period of time because of some infringement of rules which frequently was an administrative mistake.
She also mentioned how people with mental health issues could be left terrified by any appeals process they may have to face. ‘If they are deemed fit for a job, where does that leave them to recover from their mental health issues?’ she asked. Tricia said she’d been moved to tears recently by some of the people she’d talked to – including one young man who was contemplating suicide because of the way he was being treated.
The final speaker was academic and former Amnesty worker Duncan Wilson who represented the Scottish Human Rights Commission. The Commission is working with public bodies – such as the National Health Service – and the third sector to develop Scotland’s first National Action Plan.
Voicing the question: ‘Is poverty a violation of Human Rights?’ Duncan said: ‘To some people it isn’t as clear as torture, for example. But I think it is clear there is a a very strong case to be made for poverty to be seen as a violation of Human Rights.’
He defined poverty as the denial of freedom to live, to develop, to be free from hunger and to be free to take part in society. Around the world, these freedoms are denied. Official reports suggest the issues have been addressed ‘A government report says they’ve achieve their target of having no slums, for example. But what they’ve actually done is clear the land where the slums were- leaving 100,000 people without any place to stay.’
New United Nations targets are to start from 2015 when the UN Millenium Goals programme will be completed. ‘New goals will not be achieved without accountability being incorporated in the framework of any programme. Accountability is lacking in the current framework,’ he said.
He said that poverty exist all over the world – even in Glasgow. ‘Just take a train from Hyndland in the West End to Bridgeton in the East End. There is a difference of ten years’ life expectancy among men in that short journey.
Among the ways to address poverty were that those with the least should be the last to take any cuts. ’That is a fundamental principle of Human Rights, he said.
He instanced people in Edinburgh using candles because they couldn’t afford to switch on electricity. ‘This is the 21st century in the capital of Scotland!!’ he emphasised. ‘
He also said that people working in public services should be empowered to prevent problems rather than having to implement bad decisons of the authorities. He commended the Poverty Truth Commission which stood by its motto: ‘Nothing about us , without us, is for us.’
‘The participation of people and the information they need to understand and take part in those decision is what is needed, especially for the most marginalised.’
Scotland’s first ever Action Plan for Human Rights will be a ‘roadmap’ for everyone at home, in school, at work or anywhere, he said. Expected to be launched next year it will empower people to know about their Human Rights, to take part in decisions, to address stigma and to increase the ability of those delivering services to ‘get it right more often.’
Dr Vikki Turbine of Glasgow University Human Rights Network thanked the panel and said it was an inspiring start to further conversations which would help protect, respect and fulfil Human Rights in Scotland and help produce solutions to poverty.
Some ‘really shocking stories’ were heard by members of Student Action for Refugees (STAR) at their first official meeting of the term at Glasgow University. Jasmine, a volunteer caseworker with UNITY – a self help group of asylum seekers and refugees – gave a brief overview of the asylum system including it’s pitfalls and traps. What she’s witnessed as a volunteer, were the real-life stories that shocked.
The group also heard from members of the Justice for Somalian Bajuni campaign who explained how the Home Office is trying to deport them to Kenya.
The evening closed with a social which gave returning members the opportunity to say hello to old friends and enabled new members to ask questions.
STAR’s aim is to help refugees in the UK and in Glasgow to rebuild their lives, and to stop innocent and vulnerable people being used as scapegoats because they can’t vote or fight back.
Among other things, STAR members visit people in detention centres such as Dungavel and with the Red Cross, help newcomers to adjust to life in Glasgow.
A Scottish charity which supports asylum seekers has condemned a UK Borders Agency advertising campaign branding it ‘shameful and deeply offensive.’
Positive Action in Housing (PAiH) say a new poster campaign begun by the UK Borders Agency in Glasgow’s Brand Street where asylum seekers are required to ‘sign in’ often weekly, is racist and xenophobic.
Giant posters depict a destitute refugee and say “Is life here hard? Going home is simple”. On each chair in the waiting room, there are large stickers saying “Ask about going home”.
Said Robina Qureshi, Director of PAiH: ‘A similar London based poster campaign is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority. “Go Home” is a well-known racist taunt that has been used for decades in this country by fascists and racists against those of us from immigrant communities. That a government agency should decide to take up the same racist and xenophobic refrain while “processing” would-be refugees to this country, is shameful and deeply offensive.’
She added that claiming refuge is a human right. ‘The reality is that refugees coming into the UK are caught up in the incompetent bureaucratic mess that is the British asylum system – a system that in November 2012 failed to deal with its asylum backlog, and left more than 100,000 items of post relating to asylum cases unopened. Some of the asylum seekers concerned have been left in limbo for an average of seven years.
‘This campaign is designed to harass and wear down those from refugee communities and undermine the excellent anti-racist work already being done in Scotland. I would urge people to write to their MP and MSP to call for this hate campaign to be stopped now and to raise the matter in Parliament’
James Dornan SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart has condemned the UKBA campaign and asked Home Secretary Theresa May, to stop it immediately.
He said: ‘There is no room for this type of abhorrent xenophobic campaign which will only serve to make already vulnerable people feel unwelcome and fans the flames of racial bigotry.
‘We only have to look at the terrible events in the Middle East right now to see what ‘home’ can be like for some of these people. There are upwards of 1300 Syrian asylum seekers in the UK – some of them in Glasgow – does the Westminster Government really think it is appropriate to be telling people like them that it is “easy” to “go home”?
Mr Dornan has also lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament pointing out that the UKBA tactic only fans the flames of prejudice and demanding the Home Secretary end the scheme at once.
He added: The UKBA clearly has absolutely no idea how modern Scotland treats vulnerable people. I strongly condemn this poster campaign by the UKBA and urge them to reconsider this so-called pilot and remove their extreme tactics from Scotland.’
Margaret Wood of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘Asylum seekers have a legal right to claim asylum. People come here to claim asylum after experiencing the most appalling circumstance. They are traumatised especially in Brand Street where they have to go through difficult and stressful experiences in the process of making their claim. It is absolutely disgraceful that UKBA has run their campaign there. It should not be allowed. The phrases used are reminiscent of a period when people were hounded. Everyone hoped that time had passed.’
A Home Office spokeswoman told this website: ‘The posters are being piloted at reporting centres in Hounslow and Glasgow. They do not use the wording ‘go home.’ Information on our voluntary returns scheme is available in all 15 reporting centres across the country.
She added: Those with no right to remain in the UK should leave voluntarily. These posters are designed to ensure people know that we can provide sensitive advice and assistance to help them return home with dignity. The Home Office will continue to work closely with community groups who welcome the opportunity for someone who is not here legally to leave the country of their own accord.’
John Wilkes, Chief Executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘We are very concerned about the appropriateness of new signage in the Home Office reporting centre in Glasgow.
‘When vans bearing the slogan ‘Go Home’ appeared in London we shared the widespread concerns of many MPs and the Deputy Prime Minister that such hostile and aggressive language risked inciting racial hatred in our communities. We were pleased that the Home Office saw sense and immediately withdrew this inappropriate campaign.
‘Now we hear reports that information displays promoting the message to ‘go home’ are being used in the Home Office reporting centre in Glasgow. We understand that these posters are part of a pilot project being trialled by the Home Office to promote and inform people of the support scheme provided by the UK Government for those people who voluntarily choose to return home.
‘However, voluntary return is just not an option for many refugees who are from war torn countries such as Syria, Iran and Eritrea as they would face certain persecution and real threat to their lives. One young asylum seeker burst into tears when he saw the message about going home and seeing family and friends again. He has no idea if his family are alive or dead.
‘Asylum seekers who report to the Home Office have the right to a fair and unbiased decision on their claim for protection and many will go on to be granted refugee status and protection in the UK. Using blunt communications to suggest that going home is ‘easy’ is insensitive and inappropriate and can send the wrong messages to people about whether their claim will be treated objectively and fairly. We urge the Home Office to take on board concerns about the appropriateness of the language and communication style being used.’
Unity, the independent support service for refugees and asylum seekers, invites any of Santa’s little helpers who might be available to show their support by meeting outside the Court at 9.45am.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, leader of Catholics in Glasgow, today called for an end to the ‘human rights scandal’ which forces asylum seekers into destitution.
He said as he signed a public petition against such forced destitution: ‘I’m sorry we have to make such efforts. They are only necessary due to the inhumane situation that is manifesting itself on our doorstep.’
When a person’s claim for asylum is refused, their accommodation and weekly allowance of around £70 is stopped. They are left homeless and with no money to feed or clothe themselves. They are forbidden to work at any time during the asylum seeking process.
Right now, Dje Bruno Masahi, is in that situation. He fled from the Ivory Coast almost two years ago when his life as a politician in the opposition party was under threat. In an emotional account of his day-to-day struggle to survive on the streets of Glasgow he said: ‘I fled my country looking for protection because my life was in danger. I did not get protection and now it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive.
‘It’s not just me – asylum seekers across Scotland are suffering. Something needs to be done about this situation.’
Recent research by Caledonian University showed that hundreds of people are made destitute by the UK Government’s policy. Some couch surf with friends. But another asylum seeker whose case is in process, can find their case is put in jeopardy if they house a destitute friend.
The night shelter for destitute asylum seekers in Glasgow is usually full. And the City Mission’s rough sleepers’ shelter – which has just opened for the winter – is expected to allow destitute asylum seekers in now, too. It is aimed at people who live rough on the streets of Glasgow.
Said Archbishop Tartaglia, who is also President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland: ‘This Christmas, I have a particular concern for people in our own backyard who may be forced to shelter under a bridge in freezing conditions, in a doorway or on a cold floor – because they have been made compulsorily destitute.’
He has put out an appeal to those ‘in positions of civil authority’ to ease this suffering by allowing people the ‘basic human requirements of shelter and sustenance.’
Gary Christie, Head of Policy at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘We are calling on the UK Government to provide basic support to all asylum seekers until they are given the right to remain here or until they leave this country.’
Eileen Baxendale, Chair of Refugee Survival Trust said: ‘It is unacceptable to leave people hungry and homeless on the streets of our cities.’
Almost 1500 people have signed the Stop Destitution petition in postcard format which the Archbishop signed. The postcards will be sent to the UK Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean. He took over from Damian Green MP in September. More than 20 organisations have also pledged support including, Amnesty International, Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland.
Details of what people can do to stop enforced destitution can be found on the website: www.stopdestitution.org.uk under LEARN. And the petition is there for those who wish to sign it. Caledonian University’s full survey and a summary, are also online there.
Christmas is coming so fast some of us will blink and miss it! But the man in red is busy, busy, busy. Traditionally he’s been the friend of little children – if they’ve been good. If they’ve been bad, then across Europe there are tales of him carrying off the offending little ones.
In Britain, the United Kingdom Borders Agency, (UKBA) has taken on the role of carrying off the children AND their parents. Entire families are locked up in detention centres such as Dungavel. Some people have been in Dungavel for more than a year.
They have committed no crime, received no trial but been judged to have no good reason to be in the UK. Therefore they are waiting to be sent back to their country of origin. One man now living in Glasgow said he spent longer in detention in the UK than he did in prison in his own country. He was tortured physically in his own country. The torture in the UK was mental and, in his instance, lasted for seven years of cat and mouse tactics.
Fortunately, he had some friends who fought long and hard to ensure his safety. Other people are not so fortunate.
When the Unity Centre in Govan knows of asylum seekers they invite them to register with them before going into the reporting centre at Brand Street and again when coming out of the grime place. If a person doesn’t come out, the Unity volunteers can raise the alarm. But many people don’t find their way to Unity and some of them have certainly been transported back without any fuss.
Santa Claus comes silently in the night. UKBA personnel come in the cold light of dawn and break down doors, enter bedrooms of sleeping adults and children and take them out of their beds. Sometimes they do not even allow people to dress properly before forcing them into a van and transporting them for hours to a detention centre.
The old fables of Santa taking away children are still told. The 21st century twist is that it is the United Kingdom Borders Agency that is spiriting away people today.
That’s why a man in a red robe spent nine hours up a pole blockading the Brand Street headquarters of the United Kingdom Borders Agency.
Some asylum seekers may be saved from destitution if a legal challenge, started on Wednesday 17 October at Glasgow Sheriff Court, wins.
Formal ‘Notices to Quit’ had been issued by Ypeople to around 32 individuals as the first step to evicting them. But out of the 18 cases heard on Wednesday 17 October, almost half were challenged on human rights grounds. The legal arguments are scheduled to be heard in court before Christmas.
The United Kingdom Borders Authority (UKBA) which has the responsibility for housing those who seek sanctuary in this country, has changed housing provider in Scotland from Ypeople to the global company SERCO. To re-possess some of the flats where asylum seekers are housed, Ypeople has to evict their tenants. It is estimated 100 people may be affected.
The arguments heard by Sheriff Ritchie, included the contention that the Home Secretary has a legal obligation to house asylum seekers and that the housing provider is under contract to do that on his behalf.
Those tenants who had a defence lawyer will have their cases heard in coming weeks. Around ten people who did not have a defence lawyer will now be scheduled for eviction as their cases were unchallenged. They will soon be left living and sleeping on the streets of Glasgow without any means of support. Almost all people seeking sanctuary are strictly prohibited from working by UKBA.
A group of around 20 supporters demonstrated outside the Court before the cases were heard. Most of them sat in the court room to listen to the legal debates. But the microphones were not used by the lawyers or the Sheriff so very little of the legal argument was actually heard publicly. And supporters in court were told to stop taking notes.
Afterwards a spokesperson for the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘I’m sorry not all the people whose case was called today, were represented. They will probably be evicted. Margaret Wood of the Campaign added: ‘Now we can build up test cases through the court system and challenge the legality of evicting asylum seekers.’
Some of the Advocates appearing for the defence were doing so without charging a fee.
On the morning of Govan Fair 2012, an asylum seeker made homeless by Y people recently, was detained by the UK Borders Authority at its Govan office in Brand Street. He is scheduled to be deportation on Monday 11 June aboard a Qatar Airways flight to Dar es Sallam, Tanzania at 21.30 hours.
He is Ahmed Abdullah, a 27 year old Somalian man who has ‘made a significant contribution to his local community in Govan,’ say colleagues in Govan and Craigton Integration Network (GCIN) where he was a valued volunteer.
From a small island in the south of Somalia, he fled with his mother when he was aged 7 after soldiers shot his father. He lived precariously for most of his adolescence in different refugee camps and most of his family are dead. In 2005 an agent arranged a fake visa for him to come to the UK under a Tanzanian identity so that he could join his grandmother who was seeking asylum in the UK.
Volunteers at Unity Centre in Govan, which monitors and supports asylum seekers who are required to ‘sign in’ at UKBA in Brand Street at regular intervals, put out an appeal tonight (Friday 1 June 2012) for people to contact the Home Secretary, Theresa May, urgently, to ask for the forced removal flight to be stopped and for Ahmed to be returned to safety in Glasgow. They also ask supporters to contact Qatar Airways to ask them not to fly Ahmed.
Ahmed is the latest in an new wave of detentions at Brand Street. Theeparajh Thilliyampalam from Sri Lanka was due to be forcibly removed on Thursday 31 May to Colombo.
He and many of his family had been imprisoned and tortured and some murdered, by government forces. His partner disappeared in November and it is believed she has been kidnapped by government forces. His appeal for asylum was rejected because of lack of documentary evidence.
Joshua Odeke is currently in detention and is due to be forcibly removed from the UK to Nigeria on the June 7.
His life is in danger if he is returned to Nigeria because of his political roots, his Christian religion and the fact that he is homosexual. He is due to be removed on a Charter Flight number PVT090 to Lagos at 23.20.
Full details of how to protest at these forced removals is on Unity Website: www.unitycentreglasgow.org
At least three asylum seekers in Glasgow have been locked out of their accommodation by Ypeople without warning. Each was left in the clothes he was standing in but with all his worldly goods behind the unyielding door.
The Christian charity, Ypeople, has lost the accommodation contract to house asylum seekers in Glasgow. The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) has given the £175 million contract to SERCO Group plc, instead, a British registered private service company which runs detention centres around the world.
Said Jeremiah from Zimbabwe whose case is in the process of being presented for a judicial review : ‘When I couldn’t open the door on Monday morning, I went to my lawyer. He told me to speak to the Home Office. They said I had to move everything out by tonight (Monday 14 May). I’ve lived here for four years and said that was impossible, they told me to have everything moved by 2pm on Tuesday. This makes no sense and is very stressful. They should at least give me some time to remove my things.’
Ako, an asylum seeker from Kurdistan where he is a human rights activist and a journalist, encountered a similar situation but was allowed back into his flat after two nights sleeping at a temporary night shelter in the city’s West End. He said: ‘I can’t sleep and feel bad.’ He was subsequently given a key to the new lock and is now back in his original flat after he and his friends put pressure on Ypeople.
Mohamed from the Sudan has been without support for more than one year. His Cranhill flat’s lock was changed without notice last week. He said: ‘When I went to the Ypeople’s office they told me to come back the next day if I wanted my clothes. I stayed with a friend that night and am still waiting on my clothes being returned to me.’
A charity registered in Scotland, Ypeople’s mission is: ‘to provide support to vulnerable groups and individuals including the homeless, refugees, asylum seekers and young people to enable them to adapt to change and improve their quality of life.’
The chief executive, Joe Connolly, was asked for a statement on the lockout situation but his office referred this website’s enquiry to public relations company the Big Partnership and a response was still awaited some hours after the initial enquiry and subsequent reminders.
The charity’s last annual report states that it looked after 2200 ‘service users’ in 1150 properties and homes across the city. ‘We are committed to providing high quality services,’ is part of Ypeople’s mission along with the commitment to ‘recognise the right of individuals and treat them with respect.’
At Ypeople’s head office in Govan’s industrial estate at Moorpark, their certificates are on display from the Home Office as a ‘recognised Supplier 2011′ and for Investors in People and as a member of the Glasgow Social Care Providers’ Forum as well as Quality Scotland membership.
Jock Morris, Chairman of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘We know of at least four people over the weekend who have had the locks changed in their homes, without warning. We met Joe Connolly and Glasgow’s Social Work chiefs two weeks ago and were assured no locks would be changed without people being told well in advance and that the Social Work department would ‘bend over backwards’ to help anyone affected – so this behaviour is irresponsible. These people have not been honest with us.’
On Monday, Unity, a group supportive of asylum seekers, held a demonstration with the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and others outside Brand Street where the UK BA offices are located in Govan. Later they moved to Ypeople’s offices a few streets away and set up their demonstration there.
Said a Unity spokesman: ‘Joe Connelly agreed to send a letter out to people explaining the processes and giving dates of when things will be taking place. No letter has been received by Mohamed, nor any of the individuals we’ve been in touch with. Once again, Y-People have failed to deal with vulnerable asylum seekers in a fair and honest manner. By using dirty tricks and giving unclear messages, they have created fear among the asylum seeking community. Some individuals, terrified by the threat of eviction, have gone into hiding,’ claimed the spokesman. He added that around 100 asylum seekers who have had their initial asylum claim refused but are unable or unwilling to return to their home lands, are still in Glasgow. ‘Many of these people are victim of administrative errors and poor decision making on the part of UKBA, yet are now facing imminent homelessness.
‘We’re calling on everyone concerned about this situation, to write to Y-People, expressing their concerns at their dishonest practices and asking them to adhere to due process,’ he said.
See their website for further information and contact details: www.unitycentreglasgow.org or email:email@example.com
Before protesting outside the Ypeople’s offices in Govan, the campaigners had stood in solidarity outside the UKBA offices nearby in Brand Street, Govan to support Angeline Mwafulirqa from Malawi as she signed in. She and her three children had been detained the previous time they signed in. They were taken to a detention centre in England and but, for the loud resistance of Angeline as she was being forced to board a plane back to Africa, the family would have been deported.
Said Angeline: ‘It is not safe for me to go back. I just screamed and made a lot of noise so that the airline – Kenya Airways – knew I would be boarding the plane against my will. I have been in the UK for six years. Two years ago I applied for asylum as I split up from my husband who is also from Malawi. My case for asylum has been refused but it is unsafe for me to go back to Malawi. Local custom there would require my children to be taken by their Father’s family.’