Glasgow asylum-seeker evictions begin amid warning of homelessness crisis

Scottish Refugee Council concerned that contractor Serco is targeting most vulnerable refugees first

The mass eviction of asylum seekers in Glasgow by the private housing provider Serco has begun, the Guardian has learned. The action had been threatened for more than a year and is being challenged in the courts.

The Scottish Refugee Council said it had been contacted by two men who were made destitute after the locks were changed at their accommodation and their property removed by Serco.

Both men, an Iranian and an Iraqi, are working with immigration lawyers to see if a fresh asylum claim is possible.

Earlier in July a coalition of refugee and housing charities, including Shelter Scotland, urged Serco to halt the evictions until litigation was completed, describing the plan to remove hundreds of refused asylum seekers as “inhumane” and warning that it would lead to a homelessness crisis in the city.

The Scottish Refugee Council is concerned that Serco may be targeting isolated and vulnerable individuals; neither of the first two evictees were in contact with refugee services or aware of the possibility of obtaining a court order to halt their evictions.

Serco first announced the plan to evict 300 asylum seekers in Glasgow – all of whom have been told they cannot stay in the UK – last July, but put the action on hold following widespread condemnation.

The housing provider, whose contract with the Home Office runs out at the end of August, announced in June that it was restarting the plans, guaranteeing that no more than 30 people would be issued with lock-changing notices in any week, that tenants would be given at least 21 days’ notice to make alternative arrangements, and that no children would be left homeless.

But refugee rights groups believe the question of whether the evictions are lawful is far from settled. Since the first notices to quit were served, interim interdicts to prevent the eviction of an individual have been granted in 37 out of 40 cases.

In addition, Govan Law Centre is to appeal against its unsuccessful challenge to the lock-change procedures at the court of session in April.

The Guardian has spoken to asylum seekers and case workers who describe the psychological toll of living with the threat of eviction on a daily basis for over a year. “If I go back home now and the locks are changed, what can I do?” asked Ahmed, a 33-year-old Syrian who came by lorry to the UK in 2011 and has received a notice to quit letter from Serco. “I have no idea what I would do next. There are so many other people suffering like this too.”

Ahmed is in the bizarre situation of having been denied assistance to return to his home country after the refusal of his 2015 application for voluntary return, made in desperation at the length of time he was wasting in the UK asylum system – yet he is about to be made destitute in Scotland.

“I know so many people who are struggling. It’s hard to know what to do with your time. I just want to have a plan when I wake up in the morning, to know what I am going to do tomorrow. It’s not asking for a dream to be fulfilled, it’s just what everybody else takes for granted, just the chance to get on with my life.”

The hardships faced by the refugees facing eviction are “unfathomable”, says Lindsay Reid, a casework adviser at the Scottish Refugee Council. “They have lost their homes, families, culture and way of life, then they come here and there’s a second loss of their basic rights and no ability to establish a life for themselves.”

Reid describes a “stagnant” existence in which individuals cannot provide for themselves and so must depend on charities or faith groups to access food, basic toiletries and clothes. “For people who had established lives, who have the skills, experience and intellect but no avenue to use them, the level of frustration is palpable. They feel less than human. We see a lot of suicidal ideation and attempts.”

Reid is particularly concerned about the impact that the news of the evictions beginning will have on the mental health of her clients. “I’ve seen adult males crying for their mothers and loved ones,” she said. “They don’t have a choice and they are struggling to survive. I think that their hopelessness is intensified because of the hope they felt coming here.”

The Scottish government has written to the new home secretary, Priti Patel, asking her to intervene to ensure that people who reach the end of the asylum process are not left destitute.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Where an asylum claim has been refused and someone has no right to remain in the UK, it is right that they should take steps to leave. Together with charities, we have engaged with every individual affected over a number of months to provide advice and guidance on the support available and the voluntary returns process.”


Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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