Over 200 people packed into the Pollokshaws Burgh Hall on Tuesday of last week in a meeting called by the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, local networks of activists, and supported by members of Unity - Union of Asylum Seekers.
The meeting was part of a campaign to oppose attempts to forcibly move asylum seeker families into the YMCA’s Red Road hostel, or into private accommodation with the Angel Group.
Some 300 families have been told that if they did not move, they would lose their benefits. As Bill Speirs, former general secretary of the STUC, said at the opening of the meeting, “it is outrageous to round up asylum seekers and concentrate them in one building. There is no place in Scotland for ghettos.”
An announcement earlier that day by Councillor Irene Graham had put the move on hold.
The news was greeted with jubilation by the audience and speakers. However, Robina Qureshi, of Positive Action in Housing, warned that “we have three months to build a campaign to ensure that this is not just a temporary victory, because in three months they will come back for us.”
The council had announced (emphasis added), 'A three-month extension to the transition process, which means we can put an immediate hold on moves to YMCA properties… our ultimate aim is to re-house as many families in the local area as possible. …If the Angel Group cannot secure enough properties in the area, then there can be no guarantee that asylum seekers will not need to move to an alternative accommodation.'
Scottish Socialist Party MSP Tommy Sheridan pointed out that the root of the problem is the push to privatize housing provision.
“Until recently Glasgow Council had 100 percent responsibility for housing asylum seekers, but a new contract with the Home Office gives them only 80percent responsibility,” he explained. “We need to campaign to make the council take back full responsibility”. The remaining 20percent must be provided by private housing, now contracted to the Angel Group and the YMCA.
Speakers also pointed out that the problem has been caused by the Glasgow Housing Association’s demolition programme. Because asylum seekers were put in the Council’s worst housing when they began arriving in Glasgow in 2000, they are among the first to feel the effects. Many Scottish families are also being forced to move, but unlike their asylum seeker neighbours they have been offered a choice of where to move to, and cash compensation.
Steven Curran, a local councillor, attended the meeting and promised that no one would lose their benefits or be forced to move for the next three months, and that ultimately everyone would be re-housed within the area. He will be holding joint surgeries with the local MSP and MP on the weekend to meet all the affected families.
Jock Morris, chair of the Campaign to Welcome Refugees and former teacher at Shawlands Academy, argued that “the campaign has reached a turning point. From Shetland to Shawlands, instead of them pushing us backwards, now we are pushing them backwards. The battle is not over but have a real chance of winning!” Charlton, an asylum seeker and member of Unity, summed up by thanking everyone who had attended the meeting and participated in the campaign, saying, “If we are united we will win! This is a step forward, and we have to keep it up!”