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.
By Seneiya Kamotho
With Sandra White, the Scottish National Party MSP determinedly leading the way, a 15,000-strong procession of people resolutely marched through the streets of Glasgow on Saturday 1 October in solidarity against the UK Government’s cuts to public spending and campaigning for the protection of those hardest hit by them.
The march from Glasgow Green to Kelvingrove Park was part of a campaign spearheaded by the Scottish Trades Union Congress in partnership with equality, campaign, faith and anti-poverty organisations.
A sample of views revealed the deep despair of the marchers and their collective hope that the Government would reconsider its draconian job and services cuts.
Said Lorraine Leed: ‘I have been a teacher for over 30 years and it is heart-wrenching to witness the callous way in which such long-serving, conscientious members of society are being unsympathetically discarded as a result of this policy. It is an ultimate betrayal by Government of the people it is meant to serve.’
Kenneth Kilbride of the Prison Service agreed: ‘These cuts mean that prisoners will only receive basic services and not the much-needed specialist mental and psychological care.’
Said Charles Atangana from Cameroon: ‘New comers are also badly affected. English classes and interpretation options for asylum seekers and refugees, whose first language is not English, will be scrapped if public spending is cut. Black and ethnic minority people will suffer the most; how do they read their official letters; interact with banking and other public service institutions; how do their children learn the English they need for school; how do asylum seekers interact with their English-speaking lawyers and judges? The cuts work against the Government’s integration policies.’
The passion of the marchers against the cuts was palpable. The event culminated peacefully but poignantly with a speech by Tony Benn, Labour politician and former MP and Cabinet Minister.
Because of the continuous rain on the day, many people planning to speak, did not do so. One of them was Rev. Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland who is minister at Gorbals Parish Church.
In his blog he details the speech he would have made.
‘When the rich go on getting richer, and the poor go on getting poorer, and nothing – nothing – in government policy is designed to change that – it’s time for people from churches to stand beside people from unions, to stand beside people from disability groups, to stand beside people from right across Scotland and say that this is an offence against the kind of society and that we want to be part of.
‘Of course,’ said Ian Galloway: ‘Some people think they come first because of their wealth, their status, their position, or their antecedents. Their deep desire is to stay first. That’s why we have millionaires making up the Cabinet, trying to get their own taxes cut and telling us that we can’t afford poor people. The Bible says that when there are resources to be shared out, everyone should get enough. And everyone can get enough.
‘By this march we exercise our choice to say no to the same old business as usual. It is time to make other choices. It is time to put some other people first. Scotland has a proud record of caring for all of its people. We should not cease in our efforts to put people first and the ideology of market forces last.’