The SFHA is confident members will “once again act with integrity and compassion” to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow, that Scotland’s highest court says can be legally subject to lock-change evictions.
SFHA policy lead Zhan McIntyre said when the threat of wide-spread lock-change evictions was raised last year, SFHA members were quick to act, responding with integrity, compassion and common sense.
At that time, SFHA called for a ‘pathway approach’ to be adopted, so those in the asylum system had a clearly defined process and support in place allowing next steps to be planned well in advance of any Home Office decision.
“We repeat this call once again [and] I am confident that housing associations will once again act with integrity and compassion to do what they can to protect the rights of vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow,” said McIntyre.
Already, the Scottish Refugee Council has already warned that a two-tier system of housing rights is emerging after a legal bid to prevent failed asylum seekers being evicted without a court order was dismissed by the Scottish Court of Session.
The case against the Home Office and Serco was launched last August, after the provider started to change the locks on the accommodation of hundreds of asylum seekers who had been told they could not stay in the UK.
Glasgow city council called on the Home Office to intervene on three occasions, stating the potential for a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of asylum seekers were left destitute.
Serco was forced to pause the evictions while legal action was on-going, but the Court of Session backed the legality of Serco’s lock change procedures under Scottish housing law and human rights legislation.
Graham O’Neill, policy officer at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “People in Scotland are protected from summary eviction and immediate homelessness under mainstream Scots housing law.
“But [the] ruling states that a whole group of men and women are outside this protection, denying them the same rights as everyone else in Scotland.”
Serco has said that it will not be taking immediate action as a result of the ruling, but for campaigners there’s no let-up in the urgency of the cause and need for emergency accommodation for the 300 people previously threatened with eviction.
O’Neill said the council-led partnership board – which was set up in the wake of the lock change row to oversee the Home Office and its contractors in Glasgow, the first of its kind in the UK – must ensure it acts “transparently and humanely”.
“We know who these people are and their vulnerabilities. They have been living in limbo, which has had a detrimental effect on their mental health, and are relying on food banks,” he said.
“Destitution is not an inevitable outcome of seeking refugee protection – it is a brutal and avoidable Home Office policy.”
Govan Law Centre, which brought the case in the name of a Kurdish Iraqi national Shakar Ali and a Kurdish Iranian national, Lana Rashidi, said its clients were “very disappointed” with the judgment, and would now take time to consider their options.
Julia Rogers, managing director of Serco’s immigration business, welcomed the “clarity” of the decision, but stressed Serco will not be taking any immediate action.
“As a consequence of this decision [we] will now discuss with the Home Office, Glasgow city council and our other partners how best to proceed,” she said.
“There continues to be a very significant number of people in Glasgow whose claim for asylum has been refused by the UK government and who are continuing to receive the benefit of free accommodation, paid for by Serco, for some for months, even years.”
Asylum groups have also expressed concern that Serco will be under pressure to “offload” failed asylum seekers, before the company’s contract to deliver asylum accommodation in Scotland comes to an end and the new company, the Mears Group, takes over.
The Scottish Government’s communities secretary, Aileen Campbell, said that the new accommodation contract presented “the perfect opportunity” to find a sustainable long-term solution to the problem, adding: “It is not acceptable that the current asylum system results in people being left destitute and homeless in the country where they have sought refuge.”