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Celebrating Sanctuary?! What Sanctuary?!

Birmingham NoBorders | 18.06.2006 11:24 | Birmingham

At a time when enforced deportations are at their highest rate ever and corporate-run detention centres are packed with thousands of people, whose only crime was to seek sanctuary in this country; when dawn raids and the weekly reporting are constant nightmares for many asylum seekers and the government is introducing increasingly more restrictive and racist immigration controls every day (asylum quotas, immigration point system etc.); comes Refugee Week (19-25 June) to "promote understanding and to celebrate the cultural contributions of refugees."

While the "nationwide festival" is, indeed, an opportunity for refugees and immigrants to make their voices heard, faced with all the "asylum madness" of mainstream media, there are many reasons to assume that the event is essentially a cheap public-relations exercise, both for the government and for some of the organisations and corporations involved. The events appear to be designed to deliberately overlook the real issues surrounding asylum and immigration. Serious political content is systematically suppressed. Besides the Home Office, some events -for example, Birmingham's Celebrating Sanctuary- are partly funded by such dodgy asylum profiteers as the Angel Group. Furthermore, the way in which things are organised mirrors much of Labour's discredited multi-cultural policies in terms of dividing refugees along ethnic lines.

Read more: Asylum Profiteers 'The Angel Group' sponsor Celebrating Sanctuary in Brum | Asylum profiteers 'The Angel Group' are being investigated for fraud | Birmingham NoBorders and The Angel Group at Celebrating Sanctuary

Burst The Angel Group's bubble and expose the Asylum Profiteers
Burst The Angel Group's bubble and expose the Asylum Profiteers

The 20th of June marks the World Refugee Day, which was created in 2000 by a special United Nations General Assembly Resolution. The day had previously been commemorated as African Refugee Day in a number of African countries. In the UK, World Refugee Day is celebrated as the start of Refugee Week, a "nationwide festival" designed to "promote understanding and to celebrate the cultural contributions of refugees."

Refugee Week was first held in 1998. It was created, according to their website, "in response to the increasingly negative perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers held by the general public in Britain."

Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events. This year, it will take place from 19th to 25th June. Unlike previous years, there is no specific theme for Refugee Week 2006. Instead, the events will be organised around the idea that Refugee Week is a "space of encounters between different communities" and "an opportunity to use more creative ways to address relevant issues and attract new audiences." In 2005, there were over 450 small and large events, ranging from big music festivals and art exhibitions to film screenings, conferences, school activities, sports and community events.

Refugee Week is a multi-agency project, with representatives from the partner agencies forming the "Steering and Operation Groups". The partner agencies currently include: Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, International Rescue Committee UK, Oxfam, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Save the Children Fund UK, Scottish Refugee Council, STAR (Student Action for Refugees), UNHCR and Welsh Refugee Council.

Apart from the partner agencies, the project is also funded by: Arts Council England, Comic Relief, Department for International Development, the Home Office, Association of London Governments, Greater London Authority and by a great number of other funding bodies.

Birmingham's contribution to the festival is called Celebrating Sanctuary. Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham is a registered charity working with refugees and asylum seekers. Typically, their main activities include a Schools Day (16th June this year), a free festival and open-air concert (17th June).

Besides the Home Office, the organisation is partly funded by the Angel Group, which has been providing "core funding" since 2001. Last year, the Home Office carried out an investigation into claims that the London-based housing proveders charged both the Home Office and Leeds City Council for the same properties. Company records, internal emails and testimony from former Angel employees also showed the company was paid for accommodation that was "unfit for habitation" or for which it had no keys. Records further suggested Angel claimed discounts on council tax to which it was not entitled to in Leeds and Newcastle upon Tyne. The Asylum Profiteer Group, with more than 50 subsidiaries, is 100% owned by Julia Davey. In 2003, she paid herself a salary of £458,000 as well as collecting nearly £1m in dividends [see Birmingham Indymedia's article and The Guardian's report on Angel].

Many grassroots groups throughout the country are organising events and actions, during and around the Week, to bring these issues to the fore. In Birmingham, there will be a candlelit vigil on 20th June, organised by Birmingham Anti-Racist Campaign (ARC), to remember those who took their own life in detention, followed by a Refugee Sleep-out and guerrilla screenings in Pigeon Park (St. Phillip's Cathedral). Birmingham NoBorders is also organising a day of events on 30th June, starting with the monthly ARC-NoBorders picket at the immigration reporting centre in Solihulll and ending with screenings and a fundraising gig at the Spotted Dog pub in Digbeth.

Birmingham NoBorders


Celebrating Sanctuary's suppression of refugee solidarity

19.06.2006 21:20

Three years ago, at Celebrating Sanctuary, a group of PSC (Palestinian Solidarity Campaign) activists set up a stall in Chamberlain Square to distribute leaflets about Palestinian Refugees and their right to return based on Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ("Everyone has the right to leave any country including his own, and to return to his country") and United Nations General Assembly Resolution #194.

Palestinian Refugees, who number over 4 million, are one of, if not the largest refugee populations in the world and are denied a right to return to their homes by the Israeli state.

Refugee week seemed an ideal time to inform people about the plight of Palestinian Refugees and their right to return, but PSC activists leafletting birmingham's refugee week event were eventually prevented from distributing leaflets by representatives of Celebrating Sanctuary. From what I can remember none of them could give a plausible reason as to why we couldn't leaflet the event.

right of return

The Angel Group make millions from exploiting vulnerable refugees

20.06.2006 08:56

The following is a cut 'n paste from a report in the Guardian newspaper last year about, the Angel Group's Julia Davey's get rich scheme based on housing refugees in sub-standard accomodation and ripping off local councils and tax payers.

Surely funding a refugee event like celebrating sanctuary in Birmingham not only provides them with very cheap promotion but also absolves them from any criticism from refugee orgs for fear of withdrawing their money from the event?

The question we should be asking is why is Celebrating Sanctuary actively promoting a corporation like The Angel Group for it's refugee week event? Surely it should source the finance for this event from organisations with some integrity when it comes to refugees in this country? Surely replacing the Angel Groups £50,000 'contribution' isn't that hard in Britain's second city?,11026,1541364,00.html

Rich pickings in the world of asylum seekers

Company made millions through Home Office housing scheme

Owen Bowcott and David Pallister
Wednesday August 3, 2005
The Guardian

It has taken Julia Davey only five years to build up her multimillion-pound property empire. From small beginnings in 1999 - housing single asylum seekers for Kent county council - the assets of the Angel Group at the end of 2003 had, according to the last company report, expanded to nearly £40m.

In that time Ms Davey, 48, has formed 57 other companies. On top of big dividend payments, she awards herself a salary of around £½m. She is the sole director. That is the sort of basic pay expected by the head of one Britain's top plcs.

Rich pickings in the world of asylum seekers

Company made millions through Home Office housing scheme

Owen Bowcott and David Pallister
Wednesday August 3, 2005
The Guardian

It has taken Julia Davey only five years to build up her multimillion-pound property empire. From small beginnings in 1999 - housing single asylum seekers for Kent county council - the assets of the Angel Group at the end of 2003 had, according to the last company report, expanded to nearly £40m.

In that time Ms Davey, 48, has formed 57 other companies. On top of big dividend payments, she awards herself a salary of around £½m. She is the sole director. That is the sort of basic pay expected by the head of one Britain's top plcs.

The accolades have followed, as well as the rewards, including a Range Rover Vogue, a red Ferrari, a new three-storey headquarters in London's Docklands and business interests in the US, Israel, Poland and Cyprus

Last year the Estate Gazette's rich list placed her at number 15 out of the 20 wealthiest women in property. In June an online business website - - put her at number 17 in its list of 50 top businesswomen.

How was it all possible? Housing for asylum seekers and the homeless is the Angel Group's stock in trade. "Providing Homes & Hope for the Future" is Angel's motto and it boasts that it is a provider of "high quality accommodation and support services to vulnerable people across the United Kingdom." The Home Office contracts have been enormously lucrative for the private landlords.

However, internal company records and conversations with former employees reveal that the Angel Group may have indulged in sharp practices that could have deprived the British taxpayer of tens of thousands of pounds.

They appear to include double booking of houses to Leeds city council and the Home Office's national asylum support service (Nass), accepting payments from Nass for properties which were unfit or where keys had not been obtained and wrongly claiming council tax relief. The Guardian has identified 35 examples.

Ms Davey, through her lawyers Carter-Ruck, has denied any fraudulent practices. She says all the examples provided were "small-scale administrative errors" and the money has been paid back. She accuses our sources of being malicious and resentful after being sacked.

The Angel Group, along with a handful of other private companies, principally benefited from the government's decision in 1999 to disperse asylum seekers out of the crowded south-east to the rest of the country. Asylum, then as now, was a hot political issue.

With applications rising, and amid a huge backlog of cases and seething local resentments, particularly in the coastal towns of Kent, the Home Office set up Nass in 2000 to support asylum seekers while their claims and appeals were being considered. Nass began spending about £1bn a year. Last year it spent £439m on accommodation alone, £25m above the market rates, according to a survey by the National Audit Office (NAO) this month.

Angel got off to a flying start. Three months before Nass was established in April, Ms Daley bought an old nurses' home in Newcastle and called it Angel Heights. Its first occupants, under an interim scheme where local authorities agreed to transfers, were Iraqi and Iranian asylum seekers from Kent, who within weeks had rioted over poor conditions.

In its first two years Angel Heights generated a profit before tax of £700,000 and Ms Davey picked up a dividend of £300,000.

With a five-year contract from Nass that amounted to £20m a year, the Angel Group started acquiring and renting properties across Yorkshire and the north-east. It was handling up to 800 properties at a time, all of which were paid for by Nass whether they were occupied or not. In the event, according to former employees, between 30% and 50% were not used.

At its busiest, the Angel Group was providing more than 3,600 bed spaces to Nass. The fee paid for each bed space was £102 a week.

In its first three years Nass was an organisational catastrophe. A 2003 independent review found a "continuous crisis management" and a "worrying lack of financial discipline". As a result, delivery was "difficult, slow, expensive and prone to errors".

On the critical question of procurement, the review found a shortage of professional managers and described the accommodation contracts as "rigid and mechanistic" and expensive to manage. A staggering 50% of records on spaces available were inaccurate. Only in April this year, was the practice of paying out money for unused properties on the Nass register abandoned.

In the initial rush to meet the contract requirements Angel started to tell Nass they had rented properties available before they had signed contracts with the landlords or taken possession of the keys, and on inspection some were uninhabitable.

This practice accelerated in October 2004 when Nass cancelled large contracts with two other private companies and asked Angel to supply more homes. Staff at Angel felt under pressure to enter properties on the Nass register as quickly as possible.

"We called [those] we couldn't use 'ghost properties'," a former employee explained. "I had to help ... putting bogus properties on the Nass system. We would get hold of the details at the first possible moment ... before the keys were in our possession.

"There were hundreds of those where we never got the rights to them. Often they were ones where the landlord [later] decided he wasn't happy with the rent or [hadn't] realised there would be asylum seekers. There were properties where the environmental health were getting on our backs and said they would put out enforcement orders."

Another former employee involved in the process at Angel Group recalled a similar experience. "We were put in a situation where we had to lie all the time for the benefit of the company," he said. "It was very stressful. We were saying [to Nass] you can't use this property because there's maintenance going on or a series of excuses. We had to meet targets."

The situation was often chaotic. In Newcastle, for example, there were three houses which Angel put on the Nass register despite staff having difficulties in obtaining keys. The landlord who owns them has told the Guardian he received no rent for the properties from Angel.

"The keys never materialised. Because these properties had been submitted to the Home Office, we could not just take them off if we did not have replacements," explained a third Angel ex-employee. "All the properties were being paid for by the Home Office at taxpayers' expense."

"My colleagues in Newcastle and I did suggest that because we had not paid any rent for these properties, that we use some of the monies to carry out any necessary work ... I was appalled that authority was not given because I had received information from Newcastle that there were properties where heating was not working and families and children were suffering from the cold."

In February this year the employee emailed Angel's former company secretary, saying he had managed to find 12 replacement properties in Newcastle for those found to be defective. He said he would draw up tenancy agreements if they were found to be fit to live in.

A few minutes later the secretary emailed back: "I do not want this process to take time. I and Julia were surprised/ shocked it had not already happened some time ago. It must be completed without fail by the end of the day so [a named member of staff] can replace the properties on the Nass database before she leaves tonight."

Angel insisted the properties were taken off the Nass register when "defects" were found. The company said it had paid back the Home Office and denied any of its actions had been corrupt.

In 2004 Angel Group won a contract with Leeds council to provide 250 units for the homeless. But some of those people were placed in houses that Nass was already paying for.

Another former Angel employee said that when the Leeds city contract came up last year there was a desperate rush to fill the required number of bedspaces. "It was Julia's idea to raid the Nass register," he explained. "She told us to get as many Nass properties as we could. I reckoned that if one of the Nass properties had, say, only one asylum seeker in them we could get them out and offer them to Leeds. Julia would scream and shout: 'I don't care how many people are in them, just get the properties'."

While Julia Davey's lawyers dismissed these allegations as "absolute rubbish", they admitted that mistakes were made in the double-booking of the three properties identified by the Guardian. But the company said these were administrative errors and credit notes had been issued.

The Guardian visited these properties, all on bleak housing estates. In one, a young homeless woman, said: "It was filthy. My partner took one look at it and wanted to leave. It took me two days to clean all the grease off the cooker."

In another, with a pile of rubble outside, was a 26-year-old pregnant asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The front room carpet was covered in dark stains. "How am I to bring a child into this place," she said. "They won't even give me a washing machine."

The NAO this month released a report showing that deficiencies in the Nass system still exist. Reviewing Nass data for the last four months of 2004 the NAO found that 33% of 4,535 properties inspected had "significant" defects and 7% needed immediate action. Although one provider had its contract ended last year because of poor performance, the NAO said: "None of the other accommodation providers incurred any direct financial penalties for providing unsuitable housing stock."

expose the Asylum Profiteers!


Display the following 11 comments

  1. Balance please — Matt
  2. A baby-eating CS trustee writes... — Dave Stamp
  3. exploitation on the back of fugees — shumon farhad
  4. We roll deep. Apparently. — Dave Stamp
  5. social capital at any cost — clarence carlos
  6. Meh. — Davy Vested-Interest
  7. Meh — Dave
  8. Good point but unbalanced! — Si
  9. Angel Group - our experience — Alan Brooke
  10. i've raised a couple of quid — shumon farhad
  11. Oh dear.... — Angelwhore