The Westminster government has unleashed yet another tragedy on Glasgow. 330 asylum seekers are set to be forcibly evicted from their homes. Hundreds of vulnerable people will be made homeless, creating a humanitarian crisis.
Serco, contracted by the Home Office to provide asylum seeker housing, is moving to evict 330 people, including even those who’ve been granted the right to stay by Britain’s cruel asylum system.
This is despite initial claims that it would be 250-300 people, all of whose claims have been rejected. The twisted logic is that with nowhere else to go, these people would ‘self-deport’ back to the very places they have fled.
Imagine being in this situation. You flee your home to save your life, reach safety after a dangerous journey, only to have your claim rejected, often years after your arrival and once you have built a life here.
Many facing eviction are currently challenging decisions to reject. The Home Office is notorious for making basic mistakes, deporting people ‘in error’ and rejecting claims which should have been granted. Their process is designed to intimidate and traumatise already traumatised people, to catch them out and ultimately, to deport them. It is racist to its core.
Families are separated, grilled for hours about their backstory and home country in attempts to catch them out for even the smallest inconsistency. People regularly suffering poor mental health due to what they’ve been through, living in already poor conditions and under immense pressure now face the threat of sudden homelessness.
Serco are only interested in profit. The human misery inflicted does not concern them. A House of Commons report described accommodation provided by them and other Home Office contractors as disgraceful. They found infestations of rats, mice, and bedbugs, dirty carpets, rotten sofas and worse.
Serco insists its action are legal but this is far from clear. Their version of events and legal case are disputed by everyone from Glasgow City Council to the Govan Law Centre.
Even if they are proven legal, they are far from justified. Legality and morality aren’t the same thing and history’s worst are almost always legal. Apartheid was, segregation was, Britain’s colonial abuses were. Martin Luther King was right to say that we have a moral responsibility to resist unjust laws.
My Green colleague and friend, Glasgow Councillor Kim Long recently described first-hand how asylum seekers are treated. She assisted a woman who had receive a letter giving her 24 hours to leave her accommodation. Despite only 24-hours’ notice, the letter contained no phone number or email address to appeal, only a postal address. This woman was a single parent with four children, including one with autism, and a survivor of horrendous abuse.
After frantic phone calls and emails with an array of organisations, Kim managed to help overturn the Home Office’s decision and ensure the family received the support they are entitled to. It took immense, frantic effort to help just one family. How can we ensure that 300 people are supported?
Thankfully, the people of Glasgow are stepping up. At short notice, hundreds gathered in Buchanan Street to show solidarity with those facing eviction. Politicians from across the spectrum, with the exception of the Conservatives, have worked together to oppose this move. Glasgow City Council, backed by local MPs, has written to the Home Secretary to explain just how devastating this move will be.
In a historic moment for the city, Green, SNP and Labour politicians at all levels have committed to lead direct action to resist the evictions. We will stand between our asylum seeker friends and those seeking to do them harm on behalf of this cruel UK Government.
The Living Rent campaign and Positive Action in Housing have been instrumental in much of the immediate response, including delivering a Notice to Quit to Serco’s offices. If you cannot join the actions in person, please consider donating to both organisations.
Most urgently though, please give what you can to the Refugee Survival Trust. Their emergency lifeline funds have run out at this critical moment, unable to keep up with demand even before these evictions start. Their literally life-saving work needs your support today.
In the long term, we need to break with Westminster’s deliberate ‘hostile environment’ for our most vulnerable, through independence or at least the devolution of immigration and asylum powers.
For now, we do not have the luxury of a policy debate. Now we must come together to defend those who came here seeking safety and who have enriched our communities with everything they have contributed since their arrival.
People Make Glasgow. Serco and the Home Office are about to find that out the hard way. If they want to throw people onto the street, they will have to get past the rest of the city first.
This article first appeared in The National.