Glasgow eviction battle continues

December 9, 2010 — Interview

Written by Frances Webber, Frances Webber

The UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) shocking conduct over its proposed evictions in Glasgow needs urgent investigation, says Glasgow housing charity Positive Action in Housing (PAIH).

Following the 15 November demonstration against UKBA’s service of eviction notices on 600 asylum-seeking families in Glasgow (read an IRR News story: ‘Asylum-seeking families in Glasgow face imminent move’), it was revealed in a leaked letter of 17 November that UKBA officials had not even met the team at Ypeople (YMCA Glasgow’s new name) which was expected to take over a large part of the responsibility for housing 1,300 asylum seekers housed until now by the City Council under a contract worth £13.5million and involving forty council staff jobs. UKBA has set a deadline for the transfer, involving over a thousand properties, of 2 February 2011, but in the letter, Glasgow Social Services Executive Director, David Crawford, expressed serious concern about the short notice, pointing out that the lack of contact from UKBA meant that Ypeople had not been able to start recruiting the additional staff it would need. The organisation currently houses only 9 per cent of asylum seekers in Glasgow, while the Angel Group houses 10 per cent.

Concerns have also been expressed at the decision to transfer asylum seekers to the Angel Group for housing. In September 2010, it emerged that Angel, a company which has made many millions from housing asylum seekers on behalf of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), had moved a disabled asylum seeker six times in the city over a 12-month period, each time to accommodation which was unsuitable for her needs. Helen Bih, a Cameroonian mother of two children, said the repeated moves and the living conditions she had to endure left her ‘wanting to die’. Helen was finally rehoused in suitable accommodation following concerns expressed by organisations including The Unity Centre, Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and a campaign by PAIH. Angel was also the subject of calls for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) following the death in August 2009 of 23-month-old Afghan Jasraj Singh Kataria, who fell from a third floor window in one of its properties. The group asserted that windows were fitted with locks.

On 20 November, hundreds of asylum seekers, with supporters from PAIH, Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, the Unity Centre, the Church of Scotland and members of Glasgow City Council, gathered outside the Glasgow office of UKBA and burned their eviction letters in protest at the decision to move them. PAIH’s Robina Qureshi said, ‘Our message to the UK Borders Agency is, maybe you can get away with these cruel tactics in the “England region” but not in this country. Scotland has a long history of peaceful protest and standing our ground against inhumanity and injustice.’ She went on to express disappointment at the coalition government’s silence on ‘the dehumanising and heartbreaking mass removal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society’.

Days after the protests, PAIH was told by sources at the City Council that the evictions would not go ahead, as UKBA recognised that its timetable for the transfer was ‘unachievable’, and that negotiations were continuing between UKBA and the Council, Glasgow Housing Association and Ypeople. Then, on 1 December, Scottish minister David Mundell told the Westminster parliament that the eviction letters sent out on 5 November were ‘inappropriate’ and ‘regrettable’. He added that ‘everyone affected will have at least 14 days’ notice if they have to move. Progress has been made. The initial letter was regrettable, but the situation will be better in future.’

PAIH welcomed the U-turn. But celebrations were premature. The next day, 2 December, UKBA began telephoning asylum-seeking families to give them just twenty-four hours’ notice of eviction. One of those who received notice to quit by phone was single mother Namir Rad, whose twin sons are to start at the local high school in the New Year. The news has shocked and upset the family, who have lived in their Maryhill flat for over two years. Namir was already taking medication for anxiety and stress.

These developments led PAIH to call for UKBA’s conduct to be investigated by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Its statement pointed out that UKBA ‘seems to have learnt nothing from the triple suicide of the Russian family in Glasgow’s Red Road flats in March 2010 after receiving similar letters to quit by the UKBA’. The statement went on, ‘We believe that Glasgow City Council is the best housing and support service for the refugee families. However, if the contract is not going to be reinstated with the Council, then we believe that Glasgow’s registered social Landlords are a safer, more reliable and better regulated alternative to private accommodation providers currently contracted to the UKBA.’

PAIH is calling on supporters to write to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Children’s Commissioner, as well as to the UK home secretary and immigration minister about UKBA’s behaviour, and to obtain assurances that no more ’24 hour’ eviction letters will be sent out to the remaining 600 refugee families.

Take action by writing to the people listed below, and copying the letters to home@paih.org.

Or write to your MSP, MP and MEP. To find out who your rep is, enter your postcode in www.writetothem.com

Related links

Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees

The Unity Centre

Scottish Refugee Council

Red Cross

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (MF)

This interview record was compiled using notes taken during the interview.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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