Fighting racism in housing for asylum seekers

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The government is currently in the process of retendering its contracts to manage the housing of asylum seekers. The previous COMPASS contracts, worth £1.6bn, have been replaced by the even more valuable £4bn Asylum Accommodation and Support Transformation (AAST) contracts. Massive private security company G4S has already registered an interest and submitted a tender, despite its being fined £5.6m in 2016 for the standard of the housing it provided. In November 2016 the government responded to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on the service provided by G4S, Serco and Clearel. The report contained damning evidence proving the inhumane conditions that these companies were providing, citing vermin infestation, lack of health care for pregnant women and inadequate support for victims of rape and torture. The government’s response to these findings was that ‘The standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012’.

Since 2000, housing both for those in the asylum seeking process and for detained migrants who were granted bail by the immigration courts has been provided under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. In January 2018, Schedule 10 of the 2016 Immigration Act came into force, abolishing the provision of bail accommodation under s4(1) though retaining the provision of asylum seeker accommodation under s4(2). 

Previously, someone held in immigration detention could be granted accommodation under Section 4 if they were unable to rely on friends or family for housing. Now, they have to prove that they meet very specific ‘exceptional circumstances’ or remain imprisoned. Britain has no limit set on how long people can remain in detention, and a report from March 2018 found that 23 detainees in Harmond­sworth Immigration Removal Centre had been held for over a year and one man had been held for four years.

Section 4 accommodation is still provided for people who are not detained but are classed as asylum seekers. Most of this housing was established in 1999 by the Labour government with the purpose of ‘dispersing’ people around the country. This meant, and still means, that asylum seekers are forced to live in certain areas at the whim of the state. On top of this already racist policy, the 1999 Act robbed asylum tenants of all the rights established in law for council and private tenants.

FRFI spoke to a volunteer asylum seeker support worker from Bir­ming­ham, who told us about the squalid conditions, together with an environment of racist hostility, pressure and control, in which asylum seekers are forced to live. G4S, which is currently involved in a lot of the existing housing provision, repeatedly shows its utter contempt for the people it is supposed to be assisting. One example of this is the apparent G4S policy which refuses to accept written complaints about problems in its housing and instead only deals with complaints verbally. This results in nothing being properly logged, and G4S is notoriously slow at providing interpreters for residents who wish to submit a verbal complaint. All of this coming on top of the threat of their asylum cases being rejected means that a lot of asylum seekers don’t or can’t take the necessary steps to raise the quality of their housing.

It is clear that G4S, Serco and Clearel are only concerned with making profit. Reports of unsafe conditions and abuse from staff alone will not deter these companies from continuing their abuse, nor from seeking the new, more valuable government contracts. However, when reports, complaints and publicity are combined with direct action, results can be achieved. Groups like the Migration Asylum Justice Forum in Newcastle, in which the RCG is centrally in­volved, are organising on the streets, reaching out to drop-in centres and going door to door to challenge the terrible conditions in asylum housing. Their focus is on ending the atrocious practice of forced bedroom sharing. Following protests and deputations to Newcastle council, the forum went to court to try to get a ruling that environmental health notices declaring that bedroom-sharing houses are over-occupied would be upheld (see p15). This fight must continue!

Jacob Dexter

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 264 June/July 2018

 

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