Glasgow asylum seeker evictions prompt fears of humanitarian crisis

Activists decry acceleration in Serco’s policy of changing locks on refused asylum seekers’ homes

Evicted asylum seekers are sleeping rough on the streets of Glasgow, with campaigners pointing to a sudden acceleration in Serco’s controversial lock-change policy and warning that a long-anticipated humanitarian crisis is imminent.

The private housing provider, which will come to the end of its Home Office contract in Glasgow next month, is accused of breaking its commitment to a phased eviction of 300 refused asylum seekers. The situation had been threatened for a year, attracting widespread condemnation, and remains the subject of legal action.

On Wednesday, judges at the court of session in Edinburgh heard a fast-tracked appeal against the policy, brought by Govan Law Centre, which has so far secured more than 80 interim interdicts preventing individuals having their locks changed. There are fears that a win for Serco will also strike down these temporary legal protections.

Meanwhile, agencies working with asylum seekers in Glasgow said they were expecting an acceleration of evictions in the coming days, with an estimated 50 notices to quit expiring within the next 48 hours, and a further 48 interim interdict applications being heard this week in Glasgow sheriff court. Serco has stated that the promised weekly cap of 30 evictions remains in place.

Sabir Zazai, the chief executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said charities were anticipating mass evictions.

“That is clearly Serco and Home Office policy now,” he said. “While we recognise there are significant restrictions on what a local authority can do legally to help those with no recourse to public funds, in line with the Cosla [Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] national guidance and that of the Glasgow asylum taskforce [convened following last year’s eviction threats], these restrictions are not total and we call on the council to accelerate commitments to provide public premises for short-term, dignified accommodation in a time of genuine crisis.”

Zazai described the initial pattern of evictions, which began in earnest at the end of July, as “sinister”. He said the early evictees were isolated individuals who were not in touch with advocacy groups that could help, for example, with obtaining a court order to halt their eviction, and that locks had been changed when the person had temporarily left their accommodation. Zazai believes this suggests individuals are being watched and targeted.

Zazai said evictees were surviving through a combination of rough sleeping, staying with friends and attempts to access the 22-bed, men-only Glasgow night shelter, which is the only dedicated accommodation for destitute asylum seekers in the city.

Zazai said: “The stark truth is there is nowhere safe, dignified and appropriate for lock-change victims to go, and Serco and the Home office know that. This needs to change and we need to accelerate our collective efforts now in the city.”

Zazai believes Serco has abandoned earlier commitments to a weekly cap of 30 evictions, as well as a 21-day notice period.

Serco’s managing director for immigration, Julia Rogers, confirmed that the company had reduced the minimum notice period to 14 days, but said this was still double the legally required amount of time.

In the court of session, Lorna Walker, a solicitor at Govan Law Centre, appealing against an earlier ruling in Serco’s favour, put two key arguments on behalf of her client, the Kurdish Iraqi national Shakar Ali. One was based around the fact that it is unlawful in Scots common law to evict an individual without a court order; the second argument was that a refused asylum seeker whose accommodation is terminated does not have access to sufficient procedural safeguards as required by human rights legislation.

Walker said: “There is a great deal riding on this appeal, because there is no safety net in law for these people and support agencies in Glasgow are increasingly concerned about their capacity to accommodate large numbers of destitute asylum seekers, given the arbitrary nature of these lock changes.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Together with charities we have engaged with every individual affected over a number of months to provide advice and guidance on the support and options available to them.”


Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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