They’re here to stay! That’s the message from Refugee Week Scotland which officially runs from Monday 17 till Sunday 23 June. The many people who’ve settled here from a multitude of different countries share their culture, their heritage and their talents in a wide variety of events during the Week.
Mainly in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the celebrations range from serious drama, pub quiz nights, food sharing, photographic exhibitions, music and football tournaments to community gatherings and reflections on past waves of refugees.
There is something for everyone and many free events among more than 100 on offer.
Said Suzi Simpson, Arts & Cultural Development Officer for the Scottish Refugee Council which organises the Week: ‘This year we celebrate the diverse cultures and heritage that makes Scotland the place it is today. Most of all, this Week is about having fun.’
The opening concert will be on Monday 17 June in the Old Fruitmarket , Glasgow and will feature the incredible Admiral Fallow, award-winning Karine Polwart and former member of Arab Strap, the brilliant Malcolm Middleton. Funds raised will go to Scottish Refugee Council and the British Red Cross to support their work with refugees in Scotland.
Workshops, discussions, visual arts, literature, community gatherings and film will all be represented. Many schools are taking part and many people’s skills in music and drama particularly, have been developed through their involvement in projects.
Look for your free programme in your local library.
The Tron Theatre will be the venue for one of the most interesting theatrical performances of Refugee Week. Called “Here We Stay” it is a pacy and emotionally moving tale of real people’s stories of how they came to be in Glasgow.
Suzi Simpson, Arts and Cultural Development Officer, Scottish Refugee Council said:
‘We are delighted to see “Here We Stay” back on stage this year. It has been a real privilege to work with the Citizens Theatre (where it was performed last November) to deliver this exciting project with refugees, asylum seekers and the wider Glasgow community. It has also been a privilege to work with such a talented and diverse group of people who have shared their stories through theatre, song and film.’ Some of the same people who took part last year are involved this year along with some new people.
Added Suzi: ‘Over the course of devising, rehearsing and performing “Here We Stay” the group has really come together, making firm friendships and supporting each other to tell their stories in new and creative ways. It’s a powerful, moving and unique piece of theatre and a testament to the power of sharing our life stories.’
This production is also the launchpad for an insightful documentary of the project created by refugee participants supported by Urbancroft Films.
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.
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.’
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.’
Photograph by Stuart Maxwell
Last month, more than 1300 asylum seekers were threatened with ‘removal’ at very short notice from their accommodation in Glasgow after the UKBA abruptly cancelled a contract with Glasgow City Council which had been providing the housing.
This week, Scotland Office Minister, David Mundell, attended a 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.
He had been invited by Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar who said: ‘Hundreds of vulnerable people who came to Glasgow seeking refuge have been placed under enormous, unnecessary, stress as a result of a rushed decision to axe a contract to house and support them. It is vital that government ministers are aware of the huge impact this mishandled decision has had.
‘It’s clear now that the transfer of the contract from Glasgow City Council to Ypeople will not happen before the 2 February deadline. UKBA has accepted that. Now we need UKBA to come up with a realistic timetable for a transfer that will not involve any more upheaval for 1,311 people who have suffered enough. It’s also vital that 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.’ He added that a Parliamentary enquiry would be held into how the situation arose and that he would report back the day’s discussions to Damian Green.
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 we will continue to support them through this transition process, however long it takes.’
Simon Hodgson, director of policy and communications at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘Over the last two months, hundreds of vulnerable people have been thrown into unnecessary distress and panic over the cancellation of the Glasgow City Council housing contract – so we welcomed the chance to sit down with the Under Secretary of State for Scotland and other elected representatives to find the best way forward. We welcome moves to provide clearer information on exactly when and how people will be affected by the housing contract transfer, which we will then be able to pass on to our clients.
‘We were also heartened to see the commitment shown today to Glasgow’s important role as a city of safety and refuge for people who’ve fled war and persecution.’
Added Ian Davidson, Glasgow South West MP: ‘We were able to explore the costs of this and need to find out how they will be met. It isn’t right that Glasgow Council tax payers should pick up the substantial bill.’
There are also at least 40 jobs of people who provide the vital support services to the asylum seekers. ‘These jobs cannot be terminated so fast,’ said Councillor Kerr. ‘There is a process and a legal time scale so there is no way a deadline of 2 February could have been met.’
by Lynsay Keough
The Govan and Craigton Integration Network are showing their support for the international 16 Days of Action to eliminate violence against women. The campaign brings global attention to the different forms of violence that women face.
The network have launched a postcard campaign to raise awareness of the experiences of female asylum seekers and to lobby the government to create an asylum policy that will protect the rights of women.
Guest speakers at the launch included MSPs Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow) and Christina McKelvie (Central Scotland) and Glasgow Karibu African Women’s Organisation.
The Network are also supporting the ‘Every Single Women’ campaign from the Women’s Asylum Charter. Their postcards detail the aims of the campaign, which is endorsed by the Refugee Council and the Scottish Refugee Council. The artwork was designed by asylum seekers, refugees and volunteers with help from community artist Nadine Gorency at the Network’s drop-ins.
They highlight the concerns that female asylum seekers are entitled to fair and sensitive treatment when their persecution is gender related and looks at standards for women in the criminal justice, prison and maternity systems in the UK. They are addressed to the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP and can be completed and sent to the Home Office to show support.
As the Network’s Michael Collins commented, ‘ We hope that following on from this initial launch a regular group for female asylum seekers can be established at one of our Drop-ins’.
The regular venues and times are:
Tuesdays 12:30 – 2:30pm Lourdes Church Hall, Lourdes Avenue, Cardonald, just off Paisley Road West
Wednesdays 12:30 – 2:30pm Govan New Church (Opposite Govan Underground and bus station)
Thursdays 10am – 12 noon Govan Portal, 976 Govan Rd, with housing advice from Positive Action in Housing.
All are welcome for friendship, conversation, advice and information.
‘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.’
Paragon Ensemble are ‘thrilled’ to be playing at the 25th anniversary event of the Scottish Refugee Council in Edinburgh Castle on Wednesday 16 June. Said Ninian Perry, Paragon leader, ‘We will play Celtic, African and Iranian music as we have musicians from all these countries.’ Known for their creative music and work with young people, disabled people and others with no music background, Paragon is recognised as a leader in its field. ‘We’ve helped with various refuge projects in the past,’ said Ninian, ‘so that’s probably why we’ve been invited to this celebration evening.’