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There’s a protest planned tonight in Glasgow against a mass eviction of 300 asylum seekers from their accommodation. Activists, lawyers, politicians and members of the public are absolutely appalled at the prospect of such a humanitarian crisis in our own city.

Asylum seekers are entitled to housing support (and paltry financial support) from the UK Home Office for as long as their asylum application is active. In Glasgow this housing support is managed by Serco, one of the UK Government’s pet private companies. Serco receive public funds to house asylum seekers and rent homes directly from housing associations and private landlords, for a tidy profit of course. The standard of this housing is often very low (asylum seekers typically get the homes that no one else wants to rent) and I have personally been in several dilapidated flats with young children staying in them which would be unsafe even for adults. As a housing lawyer I was instructed by numerous asylum seeking clients who had been served eviction notices giving them 7 days to vacate. Others returned home to find their locks had been changed or opened the door to employees who bundled them into taxis to the Council’s homelessness services. One of Serco’s child companies, Orchard & Shipman, used to run the accommodation in Glasgow. They received extensive criticism for these standards and were even the subject of a Home Affairs Select Committee investigation. The asylum accommodation is now directly run by Serco, although for all intents and purposes this has just been a change of name. For a time last year it was apparent to those of us working in the field that Serco were trying to dispel the bad pr and take a more humane approach to housing rights. The news reports this week seem to indicate that they’ve given up on this approach.

Housing law in Scotland has long protected the rights of persons living in accommodation from summary eviction. Tenants of private landlords and housing associations share the same basic right in law– they cannot be evicted without a court order and any attempt to evict without one is a criminal offence. Asylum seekers however are not technically tenants under the statutes and therefore receive far less legal protection. Solicitor Advocate Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre has long held the view that the asylum seekers in Serco accommodation have occupancy rights through their contract with Serco, formerly Orchard & Shipman. He has indicated this week that, along with local MPs and Councillors, he will enforce these in court.

In the meantime the future of the asylum seekers due to be evicted remains unclear. Serco, and their benefactors in the UK Government, argue that these people’s applications for asylum have failed and that therefore they no longer owe them housing or financial support. For the record most asylum seekers in this position are actually in the middle of lodging fresh claims or their solicitors are planning to judicially reviewing the decision declining their initial claim at the Court of Session. Their claim for asylum is therefore not “failed”, neither are they “illegal” or even at risk of deportation.

No doubt the public would agree that public money shouldn’t be spent on housing people who have no realistic chance of achieving asylum and a right to remain indefinitely. Many members of the public might take the view that we shouldn’t be housing asylum seekers for free at all. What the public perhaps haven’t been told is that the UK Government has created this dependency themselves. By not allowing asylum seekers to work and therefore feed, clothe and house themselves the UK tax payer has no choice but to fund their housing. Serco makes millions of pounds from these Government handouts it receives. In turn they provide a shoddy service to vulnerable families fleeing war, famine and persecution. The right to seek asylum forms an essential part of the UK’s international human rights obligations and the UK, no matter how poisonously right wing our politics get, will not likely abandon its system of providing asylum. It is important to remember therefore that providing the right to work without discrimination is also part of these obligations. Indeed the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has recommended to the UK that they remove the restriction on working.

There is a simple solution to this situation – give asylum seekers the right to work. Those who cannot work, through illness, disability, pregnancy or for any other reason, could have the right to access mainstream benefits in the same way as the rest of the population. This way asylum seeking families will not be wholesale reliant on housing and financial support from the Government. This would mean of course that Serco will no longer receive their own Government handouts. I for one would be relieved to know my own taxes aren’t going into the deep pockets of a company that would throw 300 people in Glasgow onto the streets.

Blog by Deirdre Flanigan, employment solicitor

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