The battlelines over Britain’s racist immigration system have been drawn in Glasgow. Activists were preparing to resist multinational Serco planned eviction of 300 asylum seekers on Tuesday.
Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) Scotland held a protest on Saturday of last week. And the Glasgow No Evictions Campaign and Living Rent Glasgow tenants’ union have already stopped one eviction.
Supporters descended on the Maryhill area to defend a woman who’d been told to leave her flat on Wednesday of last week.
This show of solidarity meant Serco didn’t show up and said they would not evict her on that day.
Living Rent Glasgow said it is “ready to go on the offensive to defend our neighbours and our communities”.
“We will not allow them to evict our friends and neighbours and force them onto the street,” it said.
And it gave Serco an ultimatum on Monday and called on campaigners to resist any evictions. “If you’re not yet signed up to help stop these evictions, join us and the thousands of Glaswegians ready to lock out Serco and lock out Mears,” it said.
Serco has sent out hundreds of letters informing people that its agents will change the locks—some at just two days’ notice.
That’s because the new landlord Mears Group wants the properties empty when it takes over the contract in September.
Campaigners were rightly warned that “it would be premature to ‘welcome’ the new contract to Mears Group” when it won the contract in January. “The history of privately-run asylum contracts in this city is about the abuse of human rights.”
Amir, an asylum seeker and Serco tenant, said the evictions would devastate people’s lives. “If 300 people are turned out, they will not be able to get work and they will find it difficult to find other accommodation,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Where are these 300 people supposed to go? The street? Where are the human rights? Why do people come to Britain, and not to Dubai? Because they think they are going to get some human rights.
“But people are stuck here with nothing, and are now being told there is nothing for them.”
Serco said that it’s been helping people, letting them stay when their asylum claims are rejected by the Home Office. “This pro bono support has been costing Serco around £1 million per year,” it bleated. And it claimed that “most people have exhausted all avenues of appeal and no longer have the right to remain” in Britain.
Robina Qureshi, the Positive Action in Housing charity director, said Serco’s claims are nonsense. She told Socialist Worker that the vast majority of people have “not exhausted their appeal rights”, explaining that “some of these cases are very complex”.
The spectre of racism has never been far from the Glasgow evictions.
Robina explained that Serco has said “the majority of the people affected by the evictions were single young men” in order to delegitimise asylum seekers. “They want people to think that those affected are somehow undeserving,” she said.
“There are many children and women who are affected. And why are young men not deserving of help? Can they not be vulnerable or in need?”
One of the tenants who’ve received a Serco letter is Mohammed, a 72 year old who fled from Syria when the war began. The letter, dated 19 June, said the locks would be changed within two weeks.
He is particularly vulnerable due to his age, ill health—and trauma from his experiences. While Mohammed left Syria with his family, they were separated during the arduous journey across Europe.
Mohammed has a serious heart condition and spine and breathing problems, which leave him bedridden most of each day.
Robina said, “They do not have the authority to advise people on the status of their asylum claims—but they have begun doing just that.
“People have been destitute for years and they have managed to win through. Why? Because they persisted with their claim for asylum. They got evidence, and when that evidence was deemed insufficient, they got more evidence.
“When letters got lost they managed to get copies and send those in.”
In a shocking case, Serco sent a letter saying it no longer had to house one asylum seeker because her claim had been approved. A legal challenge forced Serco to back down and apologised.
There may be many stories of the firm successfully bullying people out of their homes. Serco provides accommodation for some 5,000 asylum seekers in North West England, Scotland and in Northern Ireland.
The Home Office has so far refused to comment on the evictions. But Amir was clear that the buck stops with them, saying, “The Home Office made the decision to give Serco this contract.
“If 300 people are in the street, it is responsible. If the Home Office didn’t give Serco money, they would not be able to do this.
“There should be a new system.”
Robina argued that the 300 cases in Glasgow “should be turned into 300 embarrassing stories for Serco boss Rupert Soames”.
“CEO Soames and Serco seem to think it’s alright to turf people out on the street when they no longer turn a profit for them,” she said. “That is unacceptable and it’s uncivilised.”
Resistance pushed back Serco when it tried to do the same thing last summer. Protests can push them back again—and give a taste of the kind of movement needed to win decent housing for all and rights for migrants.
How the coalition privatised contracts
The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition privatised asylum seeker housing in 2012.
The Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support contract was worth a combined £620 million. It was the largest Home Office contract ever put out to tender up to that point.
Charities and other organisations warned that this would lead to a deterioration in conditions—and they were right.
A 2018 report into asylum seeker accommodation by the chief inspector of borders and immigration David Bolt was damning.
It found that less than a quarter of housing inspected was “compliant” and 43 percent was deemed “not fit for purpose”.
Bolt slammed the Home Office for its non-cooperation. He wrote that because of “the difficulty of extracting evidence from the Home Office this inspection proved more challenging than most”.
“It is clear from the Home Office’s response to the draft report that this topic touches a nerve.”
Other reports have been equally damning. A 2016 paper by academic Jonathan Darling from the University of Manchester found that privatisation “has predominantly resulted in a reduction in support provision”.
It has also meant “gaps in responsibility for addressing complaints and a lack of long-term planning or consideration for integration”.
Complaints, fines and failures for Serco
Serco was forced to cough up over £3 million between 2013 and 2018 for failing to provide adequate accommodation for asylum seekers.
The Home Office claims the “service credits” are not fines.
Yet the deductions were made because Serco had failed to meet “key performance indicators” (KPIs).
These include failing to carry out essential repairs and failing to make improvements to pre-agreed standards.
There were 454 complaints recorded against Serco in Scotland and Northern Ireland between April 2016 and March 2018. And multiple government agencies have found Serco to be failing in its duties to house people.
Despite a litany of failures Serco was issued with new contracts—worth £1.9 billion—to provide asylum seeker housing in England in January.
It makes a mockery of the Home Office’s claim there was an “open and fair procurement exercise”.
Robina said, “Local authorities were told not to bother applying for the contracts.” Provision of housing must be brought back into local authority ownership.