The Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster has called the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and Glasgow City Council to account over the threatened removal of 1300 asylum seekers from their Glasgow homes with only a couple of days’ notice.
On Wednesday 19 January the Committee will hear evidence from both the UK Borders Agency and Glasgow City Council.
Damian Green, Minister of State for Immigration at the Home Office will be the first witness. Followed by Phil Taylor, Regional Director for the Scotland and Northern Ireland Region (Immigration Group) of the Home Office. Matthew Coats, Head of Immigration at UKBA will also face the Committee.
When Committee Chair Ian Davidson of Glasgow South West, met with the UK Borders Agency in Glasgow in November when the situation arose, he said: ‘We are very concerned about the impact of the UK Border Agency’s decision to terminate its contract with Glasgow City Council. In particular, we find the manner in which UKBA communicated its decision to the individuals and families involved – via a letter threatening only a very short notice period for people to leave their homes – extremely troubling. The aim of our inquiry is not only to establish the facts around this case but also to ensure everything possible is done so that families do not have to endure such a distressing situation again.’
Following months of negotiations, the UKBA abruptly terminated its 10-year-contract with Glasgow City Council to provide accommodation for asylum seekers.
Soon after that, Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar brokered a meeting in Glasgow of all the agencies concerned, including the housing providers, the Scottish Refugee Council and social work back-up staff.
Scotland Office Minister, David Mundell, attended the round table discussion in the City Chambers to hear, first-hand, the distress caused by the UK Borders Agency when it cancelled the housing contract.
Said MP Anas Sarwar: ‘We need UKBA to come up with a realistic timetable for a transfer of people and staff, that will not involve any more upheaval for 1,311 people who have suffered enough. It’s vital this timetable is communicated effectively to all concerned.
‘I’m pleased that David Mundell has agreed to take these objectives back to immigration Minister Damian Green.’
Mr Mundell told the LOCAL NEWS: ‘These difficulties are no reflection on the quality of service Glasgow City Council has provided nor of the welcome that has been extended. That has been outstanding.’
Glasgow City Councillor Matt Kerr, Executive Member for Social Care, said: ‘It was a constructive meeting. I’m pleased that UKBA acknowledged that the 2 February transfer deadline will not now be met. As a city council we’re obviously hugely disappointed that this contract has been terminated by UKBA despite the fact that we came back with a reduced offer when the initial offer was rejected as too costly. However, we have a duty of care to asylum seekers and to staff and we will continue to support them through this transition process, however long it takes.’
Words and Photograph by Stuart Maxwell
Anger is mounting in Glasgow after the UK Government terminated a contract for Glasgow City Council (GCC) to house asylum seekers.
Around one hundred asylum seekers turned out to protest outside Glasgow City Chambers on Monday 15 October. With banners raised they listened as politicians and campaigners railed against the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA).
The UKBA terminated the £10 million annual contract with GCC on Friday 5 November, resulting in 1300 asylum seekers having to be re-homed. So far, hundreds have already received letters from the UKBA warning them of imminent removal. It is yet unclear where or when this group of people will go.
The protest in George Square was arranged by the asylum seekers’ union, Unity, and the Campaign to Welcome Asylum Seekers. MSP Sandra White addressed the crowd of several hundred: ‘This decision is an absolute disgrace. These letters are an absolute disgrace. The Government in Westminister is scared of Glasgow’s successful, integrated society.
‘This decision will decimate communities and it will decimate the education of many children.’
Sandra showed a letter from an asylum seeker who has received warning from the UKBA of imminent removal. The man remains anonymous because, he said: ‘I am scared now that my interview is published, Home Office can take serious action against me and can threat me (sic).’
He writes: ‘We families are shocked to know that (this removal will take place), because our children are studying in schools and we parents are studying in colleges. We have to change our children’s school and they are not happy to leave their friends and teachers. We have to change our doctor and all neighbours which we integrated (with) for many years. I have more than 20 families with me to protest against this decision and I know many more.’
Margaret Woods from the Campaign to Welcome Refugees, said: ‘The Tory Government wants to break up communities in Glasgow. They’ve picked this as one of their first fights. They’ve picked it with us and we’ve been fighting for a long time. We know how to defend our communities.’
Councillor James Dornan addressed the crowd: ‘In Glasgow we look after our own’. He pointed his finger at the crowd. ‘You are our own and we’re going to look after you.’
In response to the anger stirred, UKBA’s Scottish Regional Director Phil Taylor said: ‘Letters have been sent to all asylum seekers currently housed by Glasgow City Council, explaining what could happen if they are required to move accommodation and further communication is planned to keep asylum seekers advised of future developments.
‘We are very hopeful that the majority of the asylum seekers affected by this change of contract will remain in their current accommodation. If a move to new accommodation is required we will aim to give at least 14 days notice, where possible, and the costs of the move will fall to the new accommodation provider and not to the asylum seekers themselves.’
The next stage for the protest is Brand Street, Govan, the UKBA Glasgow Headquarters, on Saturday 20 November at 11am. Here asylum seekers intend to throw their letters from UKBA onto a bonfire.
Further down the page on the letter from the asylum seeker to MSP Sandra White the writer said: ‘Can you please look into this matter deeply. We are not cattle.’
‘It’s a matter of great regret that UKBA has terminated its contract for the council to receive asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have brought welcome diversity to the city and added new life to many of our communities.’
So said a spokesperson of the Glasgow City Council (GCC) in the wake of the news that negotiations between themselves and the United Kingdom Border Agency terminally broken down on 5 November. UKBA have cancelled a contract, worth £10 million annually, with GCC meaning the Council will no longer house and support asylum seekers. The immediate result is 1300 people from Glasgow’s vast asylum-seeking community facing upheaval.
What are the implications of this decision? Firstly, it shuts down a historic programme in Glasgow- unique to Scotland- that saw the Council welcoming asylum seekers. Naturally then, the termination of this deal could stem the flow of asylum seekers to Glasgow.
Aside from the GCC, asylum seekers in Glasgow are homed by private sector agencies, the main two being Y People (formerly YMCA) and the Angel Group. There are approximately 1300 asylum seekers currently housed by the Council and under the conditions of the termination, GCC will continue supporting these people until February of 2011.
However, an alleged 600 asylum seekers have already received letters from the UKBA warning that they are no longer provided for by GCC and that they could be requested to move, with only a few days notice, in the coming weeks. This letter has sparked huge unrest within Glasgow’s asylum community, with many heading to the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), desperate for more information.
John Wilkes, SRC Chief Executive said: ‘The situation is still developing and as the principle advice agency for asylum seekers, we will be working with all parties to ensure that we are able to provide accurate and up-to-date information as soon as it is available.’
It is unclear whether the UKBA will seek to re-home those 1300 people in Glasgow, through agencies such as Y People and Angel, or whether they will seek to distribute them throughout Scotland of even the UK. A spokesperson for UKBA said it is too early in the process to know what will happen.
Earlier in the week, Phil Taylor, Scottish UKBA Regional Director, said: ‘We will work with our providers to ensure that all asylum seekers currently housed under contract with GCC continue to be properly accommodated while their asylum claims are considered and their appeals to the courts are concluded.’
Y People, who provide accommodation for approximately 1100 asylum seekers in Glasgow, said they have heard nothing regarding the contract and whether they will be asked to provide further housing. Y People Chief Executive Joe Connolly said: ‘ As a charity, we are committed to the welfare and well-being of all asylum seekers in Glasgow.’ The Angel Group offered no comment on the situation despite several requests from the LOCAL NEWS GLASGOW.
Despite a year of negotiations, 1300 people sit tonight entrenched in uncertainty, unaware of where they will be going, when they will going and who will help them. ‘And,’ said John Wilkes, ‘These are people who have fled traumatic situations involving persecution, torture and violence.’