Asylum seekers fight ghettoisation

Following a call by the Home Office to transfer more of the accommodation for asylum seekers to private housing providers, a new National Asylum Support Service (NASS) contract has come into force in Glasgow. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) snapped up a 10% stake, while another 10% went to the Angel Group, a London-based corporate housing provider, already notorious in England for providing asylum seekers with sub-standard flats in squalid condition while cashing in on the profits. Angel was investigated for fraud last year. DOROTHEA FORSBERG reports.

Since the introduction of the dispersal scheme, Glasgow City Council has been contracted by NASS to provide housing for asylum seekers through the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) which manages council housing on its behalf. Asylum seekers have usually been accommodated in tower blocks, many of them already earmarked for demolition.

Under the new contract, asylum seekers are being forced out of their current homes, uprooted from their communities and relocated anywhere in the city by their new housing providers. Up to 1,000 of Glasgow’s estimated 6,000 asylum seekers are thought to be affected.

The YMCA owns and manages a 30-storey tower block in the infamous Red Road estate in the North of Glasgow. It was originally designed as short-term hostel accommodation for single people. Residents are required to sign in and out whenever they leave or enter the building. Guests can stay no later than 10pm; phones, satellite TV and computers are not allowed in the flats; there are four token-operated washing machines for the whole building; staff have access to flats and all locks have been removed from the doors.

The YMCA is now trying to move families of seven or eight people into this accommodation. The reason being given is that the YMCA is now the only provider of three-bedroom flats to house big families. As the GHA, which still provides 80% of the housing, owns thousands of properties all over Glasgow, this simply can’t be true.

The reality is that bigger families mean more profit. The YMCA – and the Angel Group – are paid by person. Official figures are not available, but it is obvious that the companies are only spending only a fraction of the money on the accommodation.

The YMCA is now exclusively housing asylum seekers. This is an attempt to create a ghetto and segregate asylum seekers from the Scottish community and any support networks that have been built up. Behind the façade of a Christian charity the YMCA is colluding with the Home Office – it is a partner of the International Organisation for Migration, which is trying to bribe asylum seekers into returning to the countries they have fled by promising them £3,000 if they return voluntarily. Immigration snatch-squads carrying out dawn raids on YMCA tenants can expect no resistance from the staff.

Since mid-May, asylum seekers have been receiving letters informing them that the YMCA is their new housing provider and giving them a date to move to the new accommodation – usually within the next two weeks, with little time to appeal.

As soon as the first letters arrived, resistance among the asylum seeker families started. None of them wanted to be forcibly relocated to a hostel at the other end of the city, having well integrated into their local community, with children at school and hardly any time to prepare for the move.

On the day the YMCA staff arrived to collect the families and the few belongings they were allowed to take with them, the asylum seekers simply refused to move. Every single relocation team returned without completing the job.

The YMCA responded by colluding with NASS to cut the families’ benefits. NASS cancelled each family’s address and issued letters to their ‘new’ flat instructing them to collect their meagre benefits at the local post office in Springburn, seven miles and two bus journeys away and therefore out of reach – essentially trying to starve the families into moving.

But nothing could stop their determination. By the end of June, not a single family had moved. Organising meetings were taking place in the communities; protests outside the YMCA tower block had started and NASS finally had to give in and put an immediate stop to moves to the YMCA. For the next three months no one will have to move to the YMCA, while the Angel Group will try to secure enough properties in the local areas to house the affected families. But after this date, nothing is guaranteed

Following this victory, resistance to all the government’s repressive measures against asylum seekers has been stepped up. The weekly vigils outside Brand Street reporting centre in solidarity with those signing on have grown over the last couple of months and have forced the Home Office into granting monthly instead of weekly signings to all families signing on Saturdays.

The movement will grow stronger until it will be able to successfully challenge the racist controls imposed upon asylum seekers by the British state.

FRFI 192 August / September 2006


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