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.
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.
by Martin Graham
ONE HUNDRED and fifty people braved the cold and hail on Saturday morning to attend a rally at the UKBA building at Brand Street, Govan, to protest at plans to evict up to 200 asylum seekers from their homes.
Charity Ypeople, formerly YMCA, are set to evict up to 140 people seeking sanctuary after losing a government contract to Serco.
Serco is an international service company which also operates tagging schemes for offenders, runs prisons and has business at Guantanamo Bay.
Ypeople had been allowing refugees whose asylum claims had been refused, to remain in their homes. But under the new contract they may be forced to evict these tenants. Ypeople said that the profit on this contract for the UK Borders Authority (UKBA) was used to enable people to say on over the contracted time.
Speakers at the rally included Kingsway campaigner and former Scotswoman of the year Noreen Real.
Noreen said: “I will fight with the last breath in my body to stop our government treating people like animals. We’re not dealing with animals, we’re dealing with human beings. Stop starving them out, stop putting them out on the street.”
EIS president elect Susan Quinn said: “We are being asked in schools to develop curriculums where we promote citizenship and understanding, where we promote empathy, yet what are our leaders doing? Our leaders are doing the exact opposite of what we teach our young people.”
Phil Jones from Unity support centre said: “There are proposals to house refugees in board-only accommodation. They could be housed in hostels with only food and no money.”
A temporary night shelter in the city is already attracting an average of ten people a night. There are also known to be a large number of rejected asylum seekers in Glasgow who have a roof over the head only because friends let them sleep on their sofa.
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.’