John Wilkes, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council has issued a strongly worded statement at the end of a dramatic week for asylum seekers.
He said: ’News this week that that up to100 refused asylum seekers are to be evicted from their accommodation in Glasgow brings into sharp focus the shocking reality and inhumanity of how the UK Government treats people who have sought sanctuary in our country.
They are being forced into abject destitution because our asylum system has failed them.
These are men and women who have come from countries with appalling human rights records and well documented conflicts or oppressive regimes such as Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea. But their claim for sanctuary has been refused.
The public has been led to believe that asylum seekers whose claims are refused have somehow ‘abused’ the system. Yet, many refused asylum seekers would have qualified for some form of protection had they applied in another country or had they applied for asylum in the UK in the past.
Now they are existing in limbo. They cannot go home – either because it is not safe or because it cannot be logistical arranged, due to lack of co-operation from the governments of their countries of origin.
But yet as refused asylum seekers in the UK, they are entitled to nothing – they receive no financial support, no accommodation and of course, are not allowed to work. That means they have to rely on friends, family or charity just so that they can eat and find somewhere to sleep.
The reality is that there are already well over 100 destitute asylum seekers living on the extreme margins of society in Glasgow. They face a daily struggle to simply survive.
Charities have had to step into support them; they shouldn’t have to.
Grass roots organisations and faith groups are already stretched beyond their means whether they are providing food packs, accommodation in night shelters, tracking down volunteer hosts to put people up for the night or hosting drop-ins where people rely on the free lunch as much as the emotional support on offer.
The Scottish Refugee Council has teamed up with British Red Cross to offer emergency advice surgeries for people affected by the current situation. The British Red Cross is also funding Refugee Survival Trust so that they are to provide small grants, given out by the Scottish Refugee Council, to offer financial aid when it is most needed.
The UK Government urgently needs to face up to this unacceptable, appalling and inhumane policy.
We are calling once again on the UK Government to restore integrity, pride and humanity in our asylum system by returning to a more inclusive approach to its assessment of who is in need of protection.
People seeking asylum should also be allowed the dignity and right to work to support themselves and contribute economically to Scotland while they wait for a decision on their claim. If they can’t work, they should receive support from the point at which they make their claim to the time that they either recognised as refugees or are returned to their home country.
Only then can we all have faith and pride in our asylum system.’
Resistance is growing to the fact that as many as 140 asylum seekers will be made destitute in Glasgow in the next few weeks.
This follows a change of provider of accommodation from Ypeople, a British based Christian charity, to Serco an international conglomerate providing essential services in more than 30 countries. In the UK it runs electronic tagging, video surveillance, nuclear weapons maintenance, several prisons and two immigration removal centres.
At a rally of around 200 people on Thursday 12 April 2012, at the foot of the Red Road flats which are home to many asylum seekers, speaker after speaker spoke out against the inhumanity of putting vulnerable people onto the streets.
Chair of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Glasgow, John Matthews, told the crowd: ‘In Europe in living memory Jews were first of all refused the right to work, then removed from their homes. I see Glasgow going that way more and more with the asylum seekers. Asylum is a right under the United Nations Convention so don’t be put off by this struggle.’ The NUJ is the first trades union to count journalists who are seeking asylum, as full members of the union and it is encouraging other trades unions to do the same.
Jim Main of UNISON said that Ypeople’s proposal to throw out asylum seekers from their accommodation was ‘outrageous.’ He went on: ‘We will fight this through every trades unions branch. This is a civil emergency and we must demonstrate to prevent this happening. We must show we are a Glasgow that cares. Everyone must ask questions of people in power.’
Speaking as a Justice and Peace campaigner for the Catholic church, Carol Clarke stated: ‘People must be given human dignity and that means a roof over their head.’
College lecturer, Barrie Levine, praised the Scottish Government for its ‘excellent support.’ Both First Minister Alex Salmond and his Deputy Nicola Sturgeon had sent apologies and messages of support to the rally organisers. Said Barrie: ‘That is excellent, but I want to see Alex Salmond make representation to the UK Government which controls UK Borders Agency (UKBA) and I want to see him fully support our protests and make sure civilised values are brought into play. The Big Society should be called the Sick Society. It is a scandal that people are being made destitute and put onto the street. Make no mistake, Serco has this £175 million contract. But the Ypeople’s Board should hang their heads in shame. There is no need to evict anyone right now.’
In her address to the crowd, SNP MSP, Sandra White, said: ‘we have proposed practical ways forward. The Ypeople have a window of opportunity as they do not need to evict anyone till November. We have asked the Scottish Parliament Secretary for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, to make our views known at Westminster. We are asking for the people who cannot be returned to places like Iran, Iraq and Somali because of wars, to be granted refugee status.’
Afro-Caribbean centre organiser Graham Campbell said: ‘The Ypeople Board should not be allowed to do this. It is disgusting. We should all tell them that in writing. The Afro-Caribbean Centre charity is refusing to work with Ypeople till it withdraws the threat of making destitute asylum seekers, homeless. It is a UK government issue and we must demand it be stopped.’
In a passionate speech, Angela McCormick of the Stop the War Coalition, declared: ‘We are here today to show Serco, Ypeople, Glasgow City Council, and everyone else that we will stand with those who have fled oppression – usually war. The link between this Coalition and the asylum seekers is that many of them have fled from war zones, bombs, missiles and weapons of destruction. They have come here seeking sanctuary. But how do we treat them? They are made destitute, kept in poverty and now being forced out of their homes.’ She added: ‘I believe we are the sensible majority. We do not want this to happen. Remember the people who fuelled the wars which caused the asylum seekers to flee in the first instance are the very people who make money from selling the missles and weapons of war.’
Organised by the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, master of ceremonies, Jock Morris commented: ‘We want to send a statement to the UK Government and the Scottish Government saying lound and clear – refugees and asylum seekers are WELCOME HERE.’ On a show of hands practically everyone in the crowd agreed with the statement.
‘We are now organising another, bigger rally at the STUC in Woodlands Road, on Tuesday 17 April 2012 to decide on the best way forward, together,’ said Margaret Wood of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees. Everyone concerned about this issue is invited.’
Currently around half a dozen destitute asylum seekers are given overnight accommodation each night in a safe, warm place, with an evening meal, a full breakfast and a takeaway lunch pack. But that number is expected to increase dramatically as soon as Ypeople start evicting asylum seekers.
A volunteer is needed to co-ordinate the work of supporters who feed and house around a dozen destitute asylum seekers every night in Glasgow.
Brian Cottrell the present co-ordinator
who has done the job willingly and without pay since the Glasgow Destitution Network’s Night Shelter was opened last December, has to return home to Australia for a lecture tour on his work. He said: ‘Ideally the co-ordinator would have 40 volunteers who’d each be able to do one night at the Shelter each month. We had 25 but right now we have only about 10 people who can give that commitment and that is nowhere near enough.’
Brian expressed serious anxiety that the night shelter in Glasgow wouldn’t be able to cope with the large influx of new destitute asylum seekers expected in the next few weeks when Ypeople’s contract runs out and new accommodation provider Serco takes over.
All the destitute asylum seekers are referred to the Night Shelter by agencies such as the Scottish Refugee Council. Open from 8pm till 8am, the Night Shelter provides a safe, warm and welcoming place in the city centre for people who are left with nothing and nowhere to go. As well as a bed for the night, each person has an evening meal and breakfast and is given a takeaway lunch pack the next day. The food is halal.
The volunteers signpost asylum seekers to alternative, safe places of refuge to enable each individual to re-connect with the legal system and give them hope of being granted leave to stay. According to Unity, a charity which looks after the human rights of asylum seekers, almost 90% of asylum seekers are refused on their first claim. Said a spokesman: ‘There are serious flaws in the UKBA’s asylum process. Many people do not want to reveal personal or intimate details of how they’ve been attacked, raped or tortured, to immigration officials. There are many good reasons people hold back crucial information initially. As a result, many are not believed by immigration officials who operate in a cynical ‘canteen culture’ of disbelief,’ claims Unity.
As Ypeople’s contract to provide accommodation for asylum seekers comes to an end, they must hand over the properties to the new contract holder Serco. Most of the property contracts end in May. The Ypeople charity allowed many asylum seekers to remain in their lodgings for longer than the actual contract time paid for by UKBA. This enabled the individual to continue the legal processes which usually ended with their being granted formal leave to remain in the UK. But as each property is handed over to the new accommodation provider, the present tenants must get out. Already dozens have received letters telling them their door lock will be changed in the next few days. At that point, the only place many asylum seekers can think of to go, is the streets. It is illegal for an asylum seeker to allow another asylum seeker to stay with them. The one providing the sofa or the bed for the night, can have their own legal case thrown out for taking a friend in.
Anyone interested in being a volunteer at the night shelter or who would like details of what the co-ordinating post involves, should contact: Brian Cottrell 07411766540 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Around 200 people will be made destitute and left to live on the streets of Glasgow soon when the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) makes them homeless. The UKBA has moved its housing contract for asylum seekers worth £175m, from Ypeople to Serco.
Joe Connolly Chief Executive of Y People, told an emergency meeting today (Thursday 29 March) in Garnethill Community Centre: ‘We have to give back the properties. They are not ours. Many of the leases expire in May. We might be criticised, but we have pulled out all the stops and will be making a strong statement at the right time.’
Meanwhile groups such as Unity in the Community, Positive Action in Housing, Glasgow Welcomes Asylum Seekers, Glasgow Destitution Network and Glasgow Night Shelter are organising support.
Said Michael Collins of the Anti Deportation Coalition: ‘We expect to be inundated. Many of the people who will become homeless are not only destitute but also very vulnerable. In Govan area in recent weeks we’ve seen numbers double. That’s only one part of the city.’
Said Jamie O’Neill, of Positive Action in Housing: ‘We’ve had people in our office saying they’ll commit suicide as they see no answer to their situation.’
The Scottish Refugee Council in conjunction with the British Red Cross has opened an additional surgery to deal with the new wave of destitute asylum seekers. Commented Tesfay Waldemichael, Asylum Services Manager: ‘The surgery will be held on Wednesdays between 2pm and 4pm in the Ypeople premises at 33 Petershill Drive, the Red Road flats. If someone has been told to leave their accommodation and their claim for asylum has been refused, they can get information and practical support such as sleeping bags and toiletries at this weekly advice session. But they can also come to our offices in Cadogan Square during our regular office hours and we advise them to do so.’
Some destitute asylum seekers who have received letters saying the lock on their door will be changed in the next two weeks, are in dire straits. Said one: ‘If I sleep on a friend’s sofa, they will be in big trouble. I have no money and no where to go. What am I supposed to do? I can never go home to my country. I thought I would find safety in the UK but I might have to sleep in the streets.’
What better way to bring the first month of the year to a close than turn up for a musical delight at Nice n’ Sleazy’s in Sauchiehall Street?
In aid of Govan Destitution Fund which provides practical support for destitute asylum seekers, the gig on Sunday 30 January has a terrific line-up: Swedish/Scottish(ish) indie circus popsters, The Social Services; island-fired, melodious folk ensemble, Bear Bones and the lovely Timbrel.
Entry £6. Asylum seekers free
Destitute asylum seekers will be given survival packs next week from the combined efforts of Positive Action in Housing (PAiH), Destiny’s Angels and the British Red Cross. This is to ensure those at risk of being homeless over the Christmas and New Year holiday will have essentials such as food, hygiene packs, sleeping bags, tents and cash.
If you can volunteer to help with giving out these packs please email: email@example.com
Supporters are encouraged to bring in gift bags of sealed food items, chocolates, tangerines, tealight candles and warm, clean blankets to the PaiH office at 98 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1PJ. Either drop these in before Tuesday 21December or bring them in on Tuesday morning and help out. To confirm you will drop in or attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org,
Please give a regular, monthly donation at www.justgiving.com/paih/donate
Donate to the XmasAppeal at http://www.justgiving.com/Hardshipfundxmasappeal2010
For more info email email@example.com or call Jamie O’Neill – 0141 353 2220.
Two vulnerable asylum seekers have been given less than 24 hours’ notice to move out of their accommodation.
This has happened despite assurances by the UK Borders Agency that families would receive a minimum of three days’ notice before being removed and despite Immigration Minister Damian Green’s promise that people would be given 14 days’ notice.
In one case, a single mum from Iran with two school age children, has lived in her Glasgow City Council accommodation for two years. She has been told to go to YMCA accommodation. In the other case, a single man was told to leave his council flat and move into Angel property.
Said a spokesperson from Unity, an asylum support agency: ‘It is shocking that anyone would be treated in such a way but reprehensible that it should be done with no regard to their medical background.’
Robina Qureshi, Director of Positive Action in Housing, said: ‘Despite assurances, the UKBA are carrying on regardless with their inhumane tactics. We call for the actions of the UKBA to be investigated by the Scottish Affairs Select committee. The UKBA’s behaviour is nothing less than contemptuous.’
The situation has arisen because the housing contract between Glasgow City Council and the UKBA agency has been withdraw by UKBA.
PAIH’s supporters are being asked to contact elected representatives and other key people, to demand an investigation and assurances that no more 24 hour eviction letters will be sent out to the remaining 600 refugee families.
More information on: Twitter: http://twitter.com/PAIHLTD
Glasgow MP Anas Sarwar has secured a commitment from David Mundell, Scotland Office Minister, to meet with asylum seekers affected by the axing of a UKBA contract with Glasgow City Council to house and support them.
During Scottish Questions on Wednesday 1 December, the Westminster MP for Glasgow Central asked the Minister to visit Glasgow to gain a greater understanding of the stresses that asylum seekers are facing so that he can effectively communicate their immediate needs to the Immigration Minister, Damian Green.
Anas Sarwar said: ‘Hundreds of vulnerable people who came to Glasgow seeking refuge have been placed under enormous unnecessary stress as a result of the decision to axe a contract to house and support them.
‘It’s vital that government ministers are aware of the huge impact that this mishandled decision has had; so I’m pleased that David Mundell has agreed to come to Glasgow to meet all affected parties.
‘I hope that he will then report the immediate needs of all parties back to the Immigration Minister so that this sorry episode can be resolved as soon as possible.’
Robert Burns, our National Poet in Scotland, said it more than 250 years ago: ‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.’
Today in Glasgow the same could be said. The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) is prepared to uproot more than 1300 families at short notice because the housing contract with Glasgow City Council for asylum seekers could not be satisfactorily re-negotiated.
While no one is saying why this happened, the pointers are that it was a matter of money. If UKBA can find this accommodation cheaper elsewhere it can be argued in today’s treacherous economic climate that they have a duty to the tax payer to do that.
But at what cost in human terms?
Would it not be better for the UK Government to allow those who arrive on these shore in search of sanctuary to WORK? Earn their own living. Do what they are trained to do. Use their knowledge, experience, professional skills?
That might avoid horrendous situations like this one arising. The Local News Glasgow will endeavour to continue to ask Glasgow City Council, the UKBA and other agencies the questions they sometimes seem unable or unwilling to answer.
We will, of course, speak directly to the people affected by this distressing situation and keep our loyal readers in touch with events.
By Martin Graham & Erik Geddes
400 people took to the streets for a march from Red Road flats to the city centre to express their grief at the recent suicide of three Russian asylum seekers.
The Serykh family jumped to their deaths from the high flats at 63 Petershill Drive after their asylum claim was rejected.
Led by Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and Positive Action in Housing, the marchers made it clear that refugees are welcome in the city and that the Home Office and UK Border Agency should adopt more humane policies when dealing with asylum seekers.
As the marchers reached the City Chambers, they held a mass sit down and chanted ‘Say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here.’
Organisers were told by police that they could not gather in George Square due to construction work, so the group moved on to Shuttle Street, where there were speeches from Green MSP Patrick Harvie, STUC representatives and SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin.
Many of the speakers criticised Labour MP for Glasgow North East, Willie Bain, for failing to attend and show his support.
Speaking afterwards, Anne McLaughlin said: ‘The Home Office are refusing to speak to MSPs about asylum issues, claiming that it is a reserved issue and outwith our remit. But I will continue to fight for the rights of asylum seekers in Glasgow.’
Campaigners are calling for a public inquiry or a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of the three Russians.
Denis Davies, a volunteer with Unity, a charity which operates an advice and support network for Asylum seekers in Glasgow, was on the march. He says the march went well but claims political support from the local MP was short in supply.
He said: ‘The core of the march was asylum seekers and people form the Red Road flats, so it was quite representative of the area.’But Willie Bain never came, and we’ve not had much support from him in the past.’
‘The Home Office do what they want to do and it makes the lives of very vulnerable people more difficult than they already are.’
‘The Home Office seem to be changing their story as and when it suits; I understand that they are now saying that the Serykh family jumped because the father was mentally ill – but their asylum claim was refused on the grounds that they were not mentally ill.’
Willie Bain MP was last at Red Road on the Monday morning following the incident. He discounts claims that he is not doing enough. The former law lecturer says that a more ‘integrated approach’ is needed to try and stop future tragedies.
He said : ‘I’ve spoke to the Prime Minister about this. I’m trying to see if the border agency can work a bit more closely with the NHS and social work to try and pick up some of the particular vulnerabilities and health issues that some asylum seekers might have.
‘In this case here it’s very clear that there was an underlying mental health issue. ‘Neither I nor anybody that spoke to him believed that Sergie Serykh or his family believed they were capable of self-harm, which of course is what eventually happened.
‘The one lesson that we can take is that there has got be a better understanding of working together between the home office and the other local agencies to prevent other such tragedies in the future.
‘The biggest thing we can do is get through asylum claims more quickly, and that is why the Home Office has taken on more case workers.
‘The Asylum seekers that come to me don’t like being in limbo, they need to know more quickly where there future lies and if they can work in the UK or not.’