UKBA has cancelled its contract with Glasgow City Council for the accommodation of asylum seekers, leaving hundreds of families with the prospect of moving out of the city.
On 5 November 2010, the UK Border Agency wrote to all the 600 or so asylum- seeking families housed by Glasgow City Council on its behalf, telling them that the council would no longer be providing accommodation and that as a result, they might have to move to another address ‘in the Scotland region’. The letter went on to threaten them that refusal to move wherever they were directed could result in withdrawal of all support. They were told that it was hoped to give them between three and five days’ notice of any move. On the same date, UKBA advised the council of its intention to terminate its contract to provide accommodation and support services to asylum seekers on 2 February 2011.
What has happened is that UKBA has decided it can house asylum seekers for less money by using the voluntary and private sectors. The council has accommodated dispersed asylum seekers in Glasgow since 2000, and currently houses around 1,300 asylum seekers. Its current contract, worth in the region of £10 million a year, was due to run until November 2011. In negotiations to extend the contract, Glasgow sought a rise in the daily rate paid by UKBA, on the basis that it could not provide decent accommodation at the rate UKBA was paying. In response, without any prior notification, on 13 October UKBA stopped dispersing asylum seekers to Glasgow and then on 5 November indicated that it would not meet the proposed new rate, which it claims is too expensive. Instead, it proposes to transfer all asylum seekers, currently dispersed to Glasgow, to the YMCA, which currently houses a small minority of claimants, and new arrivals will go to the Angel group, the largest private provider of asylum accommodation. Angel was investigated by the Home Office in 2005 following allegations of double payment, and of being paid for accommodation which was unfit for human habitation. The group repaid in the region of £50,000 to the Home Office, while maintaining that the overpayments were the result of clerical errors. The group has also been the subject of allegations of squalid conditions and harsh rules in its asylum hostels. Details acquired by Corporate Watch under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Angel’s contract value for the five years 2006-2011 is £275,441,736, the largest amongst the nine main private accommodation providers.
Glasgow City Council (with the exception of the lone Tory councillor, David Meikle) issued a statement regretting UKBA’s decision. It has expressed serious concern about the YMCA’s ability to take on such a huge transfer of additional asylum seekers. It is hoped that YMCA will take on the stock of accommodation currently leased to the council, to avoid the necessity of moving on the part of families some of whom have lived in their dispersal accommodation in the city for several years and have children in local schools. The council has said it will claim compensation of up to £5 million from UKBA for breach of contract – an amount which will wipe out any savings made by the cancellation.
A protest outside the council chamber on 15 November was attended by 350 people, and a solidarity rally has been called for Saturday 20 November, by groups including Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), the Right to Work Campaign, the Church of Scotland, the Unity Centre and members of the City Council, where it is hoped to mobilise churches, trade unions and communities across Scotland. The rally will feature a ceremonial burning of UKBA’s eviction letters.
In a statement, PAIH pointed out that ‘The homes that the UKBA is trying to forcibly remove refugee families from were empty and unwanted before refugees lived in them. If the clearance plans go ahead, these communities will be decimated and the housing will lie empty. Refugee families face being uprooted from the communities where they worked so hard to become a part of, to satisfy the UK Border Agency’s “integration test”. Families now face being transferred to poorly regulated, substandard accommodation run by private landlords contracted to the UKBA, whose sole focus is getting a profit from housing very vulnerable people. Vulnerable groups such as the sick, disabled, elderly and people with children will be hardest hit.'
The group referred to the ‘mass panic’ caused by UKBA’s eviction letters, which resulted in agencies, including PAIH itself, ‘being deluged with calls and visits from upset service users. At least two women refugees were hospitalised after breaking down when they received the removal letter.’ It called on the Scottish First Minister to put maximum pressure on the UK government, the Scotland Office and the Home Office to reverse the action. The Scottish Refugee Council has also expressed grave concern over UKBA’s move.
For further information on the rally, click here