Asylum seekers protest against shameful Jomast housing conditions in Tyneside

Two to a room, bedbugs, broken cookers, leaking roofs ... these are all common problems facing Jomast tenants across Tyneside. Under the Home Office Compass contracts, the self-titled ‘urban regeneration specialists’ are subcontracted by notorious security company G4S to house asylum seekers. In sharp contrast to these squalid conditions, Jomast director Stuart Monk has bagged personal wealth of around £175m and is one of the richest men in the north east.

On 23 March FRFI supporters joined the Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF) to protest at Jomast’s offices, situated in their luxury urban living and leisure development ‘Jesmond three sixty’, where plush two-bedroom apartments are let for £1,275 a month.

MAJF has visited houses in Newcastle and Gateshead, documenting problems: seven or eight tenants crammed into a five-bedroom house with unrelated adults forced to share rooms; eight tenants sharing a fridge; allegations of Jomast workers making racist remarks and entering rooms without knocking; a tenant sleeping on the floor, despite informing Jomast months ago that there was no bed; families waiting weeks for properties to be fumigated to rid them of bedbugs.

Activists have been supporting asylum seekers to report repairs including broken cookers and washing machines but are often told there is a 28-day wait and that this is in line with Home Office contracts. In fact the contract says that in cases of ‘disruption or loss of a fundamental service or facility to the accommodation’ repairs must be done within 24 hours or seven days, depending on the severity.

In January 2016 Jomast hit headlines over the ‘red door’ scandal in Middlesbrough. Whilst Jomast agreed to repaint the doors in Tyneside, many remain characteristically red, leaving tenants vulnerable to racists. One tenant explained how she has to remove dog excrement from her doorstep on a near daily basis and feels this is because her red door is easily identifiable.

The protest came days after a Newcastle City Council cabinet meeting approved a policy banning room-sharing in asylum accommodation from 1 April. Whilst the Compass contracts are overseen by the Home Office, contractors are required to observe local policies. MAJF will continue to monitor room-sharing in Newcastle and is also approaching Gateshead council, pressing them to adopt a similar stance.

In January 2017 the Home Affairs select committee branded services provided by G4S, Jomast and other private contractors as ‘shameful’ and ‘a disgrace’. Despite this, contracts have been extended for two years. As the struggle against slum landlords, social cleansing, and the destruction of social housing illustrates, private housing cannot meet the needs of the working class and oppressed. Our response must be to build solidarity, so that those hit by bedroom tax or exploited by rocketing private rents stand together with asylum seekers challenging G4S and Jomast.

Decent housing for asylum seekers! Decent housing for all! Together we are stronger!

Sam McGill

MAJF meets fortnightly on a Saturday – join the campaign on facebook ‘migrationandjustice’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 256 April/May 2017


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