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Refugee Eviction Programme in Glasgow

autonomista | 03.11.2003 11:35

With the Scottish winter now upon us, Glasgow City Council has begun a programme to evict nearly 200 asylum seekers from their homes in Glasgow. In response, a demonstration at the City Chambers, followed by a public meeting, has been called for Monday November 10th November, details below.

The people facing eviction have no right to work, no entitlement to benefits or help from social services, and once evicted will have no access to housing or council homelessness services. In many cases financial support, through the Home Office’s National Asylum Support Service (NASS) was stopped months ago, but the council has allowed them to remain in the accommodation - mostly flats that no one else wants to live in, many of which were scheduled for demolition before the government dumped asylum seekers in them. This has created a backlog of people not entitled to housing, and NASS has started putting pressure on the council to evict. The council has so far put up no resistance, and is trying to avoid the issue, shifting the blame to Westminster and ignoring pleas from the Scottish Refugee Council and others to take a stand or find an alternative solution.

Many of the people facing eviction (lets drop the loaded “asylum seeker” term, and refer to people who have sought refuge as refugees) have survived through the support of community action groups, refugee community organisations and individuals across the city. But now the council has decided to undermine this support by chucking people out onto the cold winter streets.

David Comley, head of Housing and Social Work Services, has said that the council is evicting only people who have been fully refused asylum, and who are due for deportation, and that families with children will not be affected. This is simply not true. Mistakes are common, legal complications leave families with children in danger, deportations can take months or years, some people are pursuing judicial review of their asylum applications, others are unable to return to their countries of origin, and some may be successful in anti-deportation campaigns if allowed to remain in their communities.

Bureaucratic Nightmare
The very first eviction resulted in the person being placed in handcuffs and nearly arrested for obstruction. It turned out he was right to resist the eviction, as he has an appeal pending on his asylum claim. The information given to the council by NASS was incorrect. This is hardly surprising, as NASS seems to be designed to fail, to make as miserable as possible the lives of those who must rely on it for subsistence support, as anyone who has had to work with the agency will readily confirm. The Scottish Refugee Council has seen more cases of incorrect, unchecked information leading to evictions since the farce of the first attempted eviction.

Families and children facing eviction
One couple had their NASS support cut off in December 2002, despite the fact that the woman was pregnant (NASS supports people with children, but only if they are born before a refusal of asylum. They will not support pregnant women). The family have had to rely on the support of local people, and it has taken three months since the birth of the child to persuade the social work department to provide basic support. This family have had an eviction notice served, and although the council says they will not enforce it, the family is terrified. In addition, support has only been granted under Section 22 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act, which is a discretionary payment that can be stopped at any time. Social Work staff are understandably upset that their senior managers have taken this hardline approach to vulnerable families, and that they can give no guarantee of how long support will last.

Heartless Council Managers
Another case is the woman who is due to be evicted on 13th November, and to give birth on the 14th. When asked why they were evicting her, Brian O’Hara, head of the council’s Glasgow Refugee Support Project (GASSP), merely stated that NASS had not informed him of the woman’s pregnancy, and until they did, the eviction would go ahead. The same response was given when GASSP were informed that a man had a Home Office letter confirming he had lodged an asylum appeal and was therefore entitled to housing. Despite Immigration confirming this, NASS has no record, so the council say they will evict.

Left in Limbo - destitute and homeless
It must also be borne in mind that none of the people being evicted are facing imminent deportation. Arranging to remove someone from the UK can take months or years. Also, there are a large number who cannot be removed, either because there is no safe route to their country of origin or because their country’s government refuses to take back refugees, such as China. The only support open to these groups is full-board only (no financial support) hostel accommodation in the South of England. But this “Hard Case” support from NASS takes about two months to organise, and very few people want to take it up anyway, as it means being uprooted from their adopted communities in Glasgow, from the very people who have been supporting them, and who may be able to advocate and to fight against deportation in the future. The Home Office has the power to grant such people Humanitarian Protection, which would allow them to work or claim benefits and to access housing, but it would rather see them destitute on the streets.

Safe Home?
Other people are just plain terrified to return to the war zones and oppressive regimes they have fled. The government is trying to force people to return to Afghanistan, despite the recent report by Amnesty that shows persecution, especially of women, is at least as brutal as under the Taliban regime. Home Secretary David Blunkett has now revealed plans to take into care the children of people who refuse to go, and starve the parents out of Britain. There are people who have been living in Britain for years, who have no family left alive back home, often because US/UK planes have bombed their villages off the face of the earth. Now Blunkett wants to send them home for their children to play among the unexploded cluster bombs and depleted uranium we left behind.

There are young people whose families sold everything they owned to get them out of the country and away from danger, who were granted humanitarian protection in Britain, but on their 18th birthday their support is cut and they are threatened with deportation to a land they know little about.

Fighting Deportation
It must also be remembered that even up to the point of deportation, further representations to the Home Office can result in the case being looked at again in detail and the decision overturned. The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns lists 112 successful public appeals in recent years where campaigning by local communities has resulted in the Home Office recognising at the 11th hour a person’s need for protection and allowing them leave to remain. Many more campaigns have been successful without the help of the NCADC. But in almost all anti-deportation campaigns, close ties to the community have been an important factor in winning leave to remain.

Back to the Future
Dealing with this backlog is only the beginning. Evictions and destitution are likely to continue as long as the council carries out the racist policies of the government. Refugees are already denied support if they do not claim asylum immediately at port, and proposed legislation will cut legal aid, deny full appeal rights and further reduce avenues of support to ever greater numbers of refugees who will end up on the streets. This is the first time in over 100 years that a British government has brought in a policy of enforced destitution. Blunkett has described this new policy as being “as tough as old boots”. Echoes of Orwell’s jackboot there?

The Crossroads Coalition for Justice for Asylum Seekers has predicted the “Dickensian prospect of destitute mothers and children once more wandering the winter streets - being arrested for begging or prostitution - and of children being taken from their parents.”

Sympathy Turns To Anger
The natural solidarity of Glaswegians with oppressed people from around the world has been evident in sympathy and in practical support but is now turning to anger. Over the past 3 years, in the housing schemes of Glasgow where refugees live, local groups comprising Glasgow folk and refugees have been set up to help refugees re-build their lives. They are furious at this latest attack. People remember well the massive grassroots campaign against the Poll Tax, which included strikes, blockades of homes against the hated Sheriffs’ Officers and occupations of council offices. Hopefully this attack on refugees will be a step too far, and the people of Glasgow will stand by their neighbours again.

Demonstrate - 10th November
There will be a demonstration outside the city chambers on Monday 10th November, at 5pm.

The demo has been called by Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, who are demanding that the council stand up to Westminster and call off the evictions, or find an alternative solution to support destitute refugees in Glasgow.

There will be a public meeting afterwards in Strathclyde University Union, Level 6, 90 John St, chaired by the Regional Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. Speakers include Mohammed Asif from Glasgow Refugee Action Group, and Kath Sainsbury of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, in addition to the usual line up of politicians. It is to be hoped that this meeting will not be just the usual rhetoric from people looking for votes, but an opportunity demand that the council work to find a solution, and to call for further actions in solidarity with refugees.

For further details on the demo and public meeting, contact Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees at or by phone on 07870 286 632

For up to date information on asylum and refugee issues, see:

For information on campaigning against deportations, see:

For No One Is Illegal manifesto:

Amnesty International Afghanistan report- 'No one listens to us and no one treats us as human beings': Justice denied to women

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