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.
On the morning of Govan Fair 2012, an asylum seeker made homeless by Y people recently, was detained by the UK Borders Authority at its Govan office in Brand Street. He is scheduled to be deportation on Monday 11 June aboard a Qatar Airways flight to Dar es Sallam, Tanzania at 21.30 hours.
He is Ahmed Abdullah, a 27 year old Somalian man who has ‘made a significant contribution to his local community in Govan,’ say colleagues in Govan and Craigton Integration Network (GCIN) where he was a valued volunteer.
From a small island in the south of Somalia, he fled with his mother when he was aged 7 after soldiers shot his father. He lived precariously for most of his adolescence in different refugee camps and most of his family are dead. In 2005 an agent arranged a fake visa for him to come to the UK under a Tanzanian identity so that he could join his grandmother who was seeking asylum in the UK.
Volunteers at Unity Centre in Govan, which monitors and supports asylum seekers who are required to ‘sign in’ at UKBA in Brand Street at regular intervals, put out an appeal tonight (Friday 1 June 2012) for people to contact the Home Secretary, Theresa May, urgently, to ask for the forced removal flight to be stopped and for Ahmed to be returned to safety in Glasgow. They also ask supporters to contact Qatar Airways to ask them not to fly Ahmed.
Ahmed is the latest in an new wave of detentions at Brand Street. Theeparajh Thilliyampalam from Sri Lanka was due to be forcibly removed on Thursday 31 May to Colombo.
He and many of his family had been imprisoned and tortured and some murdered, by government forces. His partner disappeared in November and it is believed she has been kidnapped by government forces. His appeal for asylum was rejected because of lack of documentary evidence.
Joshua Odeke is currently in detention and is due to be forcibly removed from the UK to Nigeria on the June 7.
His life is in danger if he is returned to Nigeria because of his political roots, his Christian religion and the fact that he is homosexual. He is due to be removed on a Charter Flight number PVT090 to Lagos at 23.20.
Full details of how to protest at these forced removals is on Unity Website: www.unitycentreglasgow.org
A sizeable crowd protested outside Glasgow City Chambers today (Thursday 17 May) at the eviction of asylum seekers from their homes in the city, leaving them to sleep on the streets.
Councillors from all parties spoke out, just before they attended the first full Council meeting of the new administration.
One of at least six people left destitute is Ako from Kurdistan. He explained how he returned to his accommodation provided by Ypeople, to find the lock had been changed without any warning. ‘This was a most stressful and dangerous situation for me,’ said the human rights activist and journalist. ‘I can never forget this. It has destroyed me. It is important to press the system and the government because this should not happen again.’ He says he was lucky and got to sleep in a church hall which is being used as a temporary night shelter for destitute asylum seekers.
A few days later, after long negotiations with Ypeople, he was given a key to the new lock and allowed back into the flat where all his possessions were. Others are not so lucky and still wait for their personal things to be returned to them.
Margaret Wood of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘Some of the most vulnerable should be eligible for help from the Social Work Department. It is indecent this is happening at all,’ she said. ‘We will continue to fight.’
A massive demonstration had been planned for Saturday 9 June but will be postponed as that is the day the Olympic torch is due to go through Glasgow. Said Margaret: ‘That is not a disaster. It gives us time to build and have a nationwide demonstration.’ She added: ‘We should be asking the serious question – is this the kind of society we want in Scotland? Do we want to provide a safe haven for people who have had to flee terrible treatment in their own country or do we want them to be treated like rubbish and dumped on the street? This has been a most disgraceful episode but we will fight on alongside the trade unions and the inspiring destitute asylum seekers themselves. We have to win for this society will not be worth living in until we do.’
At least three asylum seekers in Glasgow have been locked out of their accommodation by Ypeople without warning. Each was left in the clothes he was standing in but with all his worldly goods behind the unyielding door.
The Christian charity, Ypeople, has lost the accommodation contract to house asylum seekers in Glasgow. The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) has given the £175 million contract to SERCO Group plc, instead, a British registered private service company which runs detention centres around the world.
Said Jeremiah from Zimbabwe whose case is in the process of being presented for a judicial review : ‘When I couldn’t open the door on Monday morning, I went to my lawyer. He told me to speak to the Home Office. They said I had to move everything out by tonight (Monday 14 May). I’ve lived here for four years and said that was impossible, they told me to have everything moved by 2pm on Tuesday. This makes no sense and is very stressful. They should at least give me some time to remove my things.’
Ako, an asylum seeker from Kurdistan where he is a human rights activist and a journalist, encountered a similar situation but was allowed back into his flat after two nights sleeping at a temporary night shelter in the city’s West End. He said: ‘I can’t sleep and feel bad.’ He was subsequently given a key to the new lock and is now back in his original flat after he and his friends put pressure on Ypeople.
Mohamed from the Sudan has been without support for more than one year. His Cranhill flat’s lock was changed without notice last week. He said: ‘When I went to the Ypeople’s office they told me to come back the next day if I wanted my clothes. I stayed with a friend that night and am still waiting on my clothes being returned to me.’
A charity registered in Scotland, Ypeople’s mission is: ‘to provide support to vulnerable groups and individuals including the homeless, refugees, asylum seekers and young people to enable them to adapt to change and improve their quality of life.’
The chief executive, Joe Connolly, was asked for a statement on the lockout situation but his office referred this website’s enquiry to public relations company the Big Partnership and a response was still awaited some hours after the initial enquiry and subsequent reminders.
The charity’s last annual report states that it looked after 2200 ‘service users’ in 1150 properties and homes across the city. ‘We are committed to providing high quality services,’ is part of Ypeople’s mission along with the commitment to ‘recognise the right of individuals and treat them with respect.’
At Ypeople’s head office in Govan’s industrial estate at Moorpark, their certificates are on display from the Home Office as a ‘recognised Supplier 2011′ and for Investors in People and as a member of the Glasgow Social Care Providers’ Forum as well as Quality Scotland membership.
Jock Morris, Chairman of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘We know of at least four people over the weekend who have had the locks changed in their homes, without warning. We met Joe Connolly and Glasgow’s Social Work chiefs two weeks ago and were assured no locks would be changed without people being told well in advance and that the Social Work department would ‘bend over backwards’ to help anyone affected – so this behaviour is irresponsible. These people have not been honest with us.’
On Monday, Unity, a group supportive of asylum seekers, held a demonstration with the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and others outside Brand Street where the UK BA offices are located in Govan. Later they moved to Ypeople’s offices a few streets away and set up their demonstration there.
Said a Unity spokesman: ‘Joe Connelly agreed to send a letter out to people explaining the processes and giving dates of when things will be taking place. No letter has been received by Mohamed, nor any of the individuals we’ve been in touch with. Once again, Y-People have failed to deal with vulnerable asylum seekers in a fair and honest manner. By using dirty tricks and giving unclear messages, they have created fear among the asylum seeking community. Some individuals, terrified by the threat of eviction, have gone into hiding,’ claimed the spokesman. He added that around 100 asylum seekers who have had their initial asylum claim refused but are unable or unwilling to return to their home lands, are still in Glasgow. ‘Many of these people are victim of administrative errors and poor decision making on the part of UKBA, yet are now facing imminent homelessness.
‘We’re calling on everyone concerned about this situation, to write to Y-People, expressing their concerns at their dishonest practices and asking them to adhere to due process,’ he said.
See their website for further information and contact details: www.unitycentreglasgow.org or email:email@example.com
Before protesting outside the Ypeople’s offices in Govan, the campaigners had stood in solidarity outside the UKBA offices nearby in Brand Street, Govan to support Angeline Mwafulirqa from Malawi as she signed in. She and her three children had been detained the previous time they signed in. They were taken to a detention centre in England and but, for the loud resistance of Angeline as she was being forced to board a plane back to Africa, the family would have been deported.
Said Angeline: ‘It is not safe for me to go back. I just screamed and made a lot of noise so that the airline – Kenya Airways – knew I would be boarding the plane against my will. I have been in the UK for six years. Two years ago I applied for asylum as I split up from my husband who is also from Malawi. My case for asylum has been refused but it is unsafe for me to go back to Malawi. Local custom there would require my children to be taken by their Father’s family.’
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.’
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.’