Another person dies at Morton Hall – a letter from detainees

This letter was written by people detained at Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre and sent to Glasgow Unity Centre following the death of Mr Carlington Spencer on October 2nd. We publish it as it was written. Mr Spencer’s death follows the deaths of a number of people detained at Morton Hall this year. This is why we will be demonstrating at Morton Hall on Saturday January 20th 2018 to demand the closure of this, and all other, detention centres

Demonstrating at Morton Hall 27 May. pic by SYMAAG

 

IRC Morton Hall

05/10/2017

Re: Death Incident (IRC Morton Hall)

Dear Unity

Thank you so much for your texts this morning. I have now gathered all the information from main witnesses and even have couple of written statements.

Mr Carlinton Spencer was a detainee here at Morton Hall. Unfortunately Mr Spencer aka (Rasta) died in hospital on the 2nd of October 2017.

This whole ordeal started on Thursday the 28th of September 2017 when two of Mr Spencer’s friends turned at his room in Fry Unity 3/06. They noticed that the door was unlocked and the room was dark, however they heard some sort of distress voice coming from inside. They both came in and switched the lights on. They found Mr Spencer lying in floor in agony and unable to get back in bed. They assisted him and put him on his bed. One of them went to the office in Fry unit and informed the officers. Two female officers arrived an started speculating that Mr Spencer’s condition was induced by drugs consumption. Few minutes later a nurse came in and failed to assess Mr Spencer’s conditions properly. The nurse put a tissue on Mr Spencer’s hand, asked him to wipe his own nose when she could clearly see this was not possible. According to these two detainee’s testimony the nurse assisted Mr Spencer’s hands to wipe his own nose but his hand kept pulling back down. The officers and the nurse asked Rasta’s two friends to leave the room but one of them insisted to stay.

On Friday the 29th of September 2017 about midday, another detainee went to Mr Spencer’s room to check on him. But this point Mr Spencer was shaking in his bed and looking in a very bad state. This detainee informed the officers in Fry unit while another detainee went to the health care and dragged the medical professional to come to check on Mr Spencer’s conditions. Few detainees were standing outside Mr Spencer’s door when the nurse and doctor arrived. The officers asked the detained to go away but they decided they would not leave until Mr Spencer is taking to a hospital. An ambulance arrived at about 2pm and Mr Spencer was then taken to hospital.

It has now been said that Mr. Spence suffered another stroke while in the back of the ambulance on his way to hospital and in fact he was in a (non induced) coma in hospital and died on Monday 2nd of October 2017. We were not told by IRC Morton Hall staff of this until Wednesday 4th of October 2017.

On Monday, I personally asked one of the officers in Windsor Unit what were the conditions of Rasta and if he had an update, the officer in question told me he did not know about that incident as he was off on Friday. I found that extremely hard to believe but I continue with my activities.

Yesterday 3rd of October 2017 at around 19:00 hours the news started circulating that Mr Spencer has passed away in hospital. I was shocked and deeply traumatized when I heard the news because I personally knew him. He was a very pleasant and decent gentleman.

By 20>30, final roll check time, the officers at Windsor Unit were trying to calm down a few of the detainees that were deeply distress, They lady officer claimed that Rasta died as result of spice attack. This is very misleading and untrue. He died as a result of gross negligence from part of the health professional at Morton Hall and IRC staff that failed to identify Mr Spencer had a stroke on 28 of September 2017.

Such a gross negligence could potentially revoke a doctor’s license to practice from the GMC register. I come from a medical background environment and I understand this subject in depth. The GMC will rule that doctor is unfit to practice. However there are no Doctors here at IRC Morton Hall between 17:00-09:00. Here at Morton Hall detainees are 16 hours without a doctor. We only have nurses that do not meet the standards of a medical professional and lack insight and professionalism, obviously disregarding their patient’s duty of care. I believe in this case the protocol would have been to ring an ambulance straight away on Thursday. Perhaps this would have change the whole outcome.

I know one detainee Mr T put a written complaint on Saturday because he directly witnessed what happen to Mr Spencer and how he was neglected. Mr T was moved to the CCU on Monday 2nd of October 2017 in the afternoon and now has been moved out of this centre but no one can get a hold of him.

This should have never happened if proper medical care has been offered in time to minimize the negatives effect of a stroke. This is shocking and it revolts me to my core knowing that IRC Morton Hall staff are insisting that MR Spencer died as a result of spice attack.  This has spared anger among the population her. I am personally very distressed, traumatized and angry as his is the second death incident I have experience while in detention.

Thank you for your support, we really appreciate it.

 

Kind Regards

Concerned Detainees at IRC Morton Hall

Direct Provision – Ireland’s holding pens for asylum seekers

At a recent SYMAAG meeting, our co-chair John Grayson reported on his recent fact-finding visit to Ireland. He visited sites of Direct Provision, Ireland’s system for segregating people seeking asylum. He also interviewed some of the people who have been subjected to Direct Provision and have spoken out against it.

The article below first appeared on the Institute for Race Relations website on September 21st 2017

 

In the first of a series, John Grayson examines the Direct Provision (DP) system for asylum seekers in Ireland. Part-two will examine the private companies involved in providing services under DP.

‘The Minister for Justice has made an outspoken attack on bogus asylum-seeking and “political correctness” at the Oireachtas Justice Committee. Michael McDowell said the patience of the Irish people would be very tested if they knew the “cock and bull” stories being given by people looking for asylum … “I would prefer to interview these people at the airport, but the UN insists that I go through due procedure,” said Mr McDowell.’ (RTE News, 5 May 2005)

People caught up in the direct provision system are being denied hope by the State and forced to live in a system which is worse than prison … Former judge Dr. Bryan McMahon said anyone forced to live in a system that denied them the right to work or study and determined almost every aspect of their life without any indication as to when their circumstances might change “would go mad”. Some of them said to me: I would prefer to be in jail because I would have a definite sentence and I would know when I was getting out.’” (Dr McMahon chaired the first official Irish government inquiry into Direct Provision in 2014)

 

Direct Provision in Tralee

johnston-marina-exterior-photoIn a room in the Tralee International Resource Centre in County Kerry in the South West of Ireland, Shahidah had brought me to meet two residents from Tralee’s two DP Centres.

Christine looked frail and ill but she smiled briefly as she sat down at the large table in the meeting room of the centre. I told her I was from the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group in South Yorkshire ‘I was in Rotherham for a while, six years ago in asylum housing’, she said. ‘But they made me come back here because I had been fingerprinted in Ireland. I have been here in Tralee ever since.’

Christine, originally from East Africa, described the regime in the centre, Johnston Marina, a disused hotel:

‘We are not allowed to cook or even do our own washing. My clothes are ruined in the industrial washers they use in there. I am hungry most of the time. I am vegetarian but they will not cook me food I can eat. All the staff are white, from Eastern Europe I think, they simply do not treat the single Black women, like me, fairly. Even fruit is given out in a racist way, the best fruit goes to the white women, then the families with children, both Black and white – then us, we end up with apples and pears. The staff decide how much is given out and there is by the end of the week often leftovers of the best fruit which is overripe – they then put it out on the tables for all of us. The heating often fails and we have no hot water. It is not a good place to live.’

Ten years ago, when there were 40 women and 45 children in the Johnston Marina centre where Christine lives, there was a hunger strike to protest about conditions. In 2013 the Tralee International Resource Centre was one of the sponsors of the national ‘End Institutionalised Living’ protests held throughout the country, which included a demonstration in Tralee town centre.

In Tralee, talking to Shahidah, Christine and Theresa, a support worker at the Resource Centre, it was obvious that the suicide of a Korean woman in Kinsale Road DP centre in Cork on the 23 August was still affecting them. The woman, a lone parent, had been in the centre about a year with her six-year-old son. Lucky Khambule, spokesman for the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) who had himself spent time in Kinsale Road, said ‘She had on occasions been to the doctor and she was evidently a quiet, sad person.’

 

Racism in rural Ireland

What many in human rights organisations suspect (or are afraid to admit openly) is that Irish society knows full well about the system of direct provision, the vast majority of the population could not care less. In fact, the vast majority may even want a harsher system.’ (Liam Thornton and Carl O’Brien, ‘Closing Our Eyes: Irish Society and Direct Provision’, 8 October 2013, humanrights.ie)

I was staying with Shahidah and John, both social justice campaigners in Kerry. The couple have lived near Tralee for over ten years, during which time Shahidah has heard racist remarks aimed at her when she walked around town: ‘Some years ago someone in town wound down his car window and threw a glass bottle at me’. John told me ‘I think racism is growing in Ireland since the Crash as people get poorer, even the traditional discrimination against the Traveller community is getting worse. DP centres are often in rundown hotels, and you hear politicians and people in the media saying, “Why are asylum seekers getting hotels, whilst Irish homeless people are on the streets”. People have no idea of what goes on in the DP centres. Tourists actually stand and take pictures of Johnston Marina and its thatched roof annexe.’[1]

©John Grayson

©John Grayson

I had talked to Charles earlier in the international resource centre about his life in the Atlas Centre, the men’s DP centre in Tralee. Charles was a surgeon from the Middle East, and he had just heard that he had been granted leave to remain in Ireland. Charles had been shocked at the racism he had met with in Tralee. ‘I volunteered to help with local work with poor people, and had to give it up, people simply insulted me and my background. In the centre where I have lived for over a year, every single weekend when the pubs shut a gang of young men fill the street outside chanting “Go Home”, and throw things at the windows. The police do nothing.’

Charles had prepared for our meeting by writing a detailed list of points he wanted to raise with me.

©John Grayson

©John Grayson

Charles told me of his despair at ‘feeling useless, defenceless, and confused’, and admitted he had felt suicidal at times. ‘In there, time turns against you, you feel ashamed of living in Direct Provision. The racism makes you feel you have no respect in society even amongst other asylum seekers. Other people in the centre suffered racism and abused people like me as a defence mechanism, facing racism by harming good people.’ He was worried about his professional skills as a surgeon deteriorating with his forced absence from practice. ‘We may be banned from working but they should allow volunteering for professional people, it is about more than just the money.’ Now he was leaving Direct Provision he was obviously very anxious about facing ‘real life’ again.

 

Direct Provision and dispersal

DP centres are not closed detention centres, new asylum seekers ‘decide’ whether they go into the DP centres and are free to leave. In 2015 there were an estimated 7,937 people in the Irish asylum system, 45 per cent living in DP accommodation, and 55 per cent living ‘outside Direct Provision‘.

The DP system commenced in April 2000, offering asylum seekers bed and board accommodation, and an allowance of €19.10 a week per adult, with an additional €9.60 a week per child. The system of DP also provides health care through the medical card scheme, and education up to the age of 18 for children of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are not entitled to any other form of welfare payment. They are not allowed to work, and Ireland is the only EU state with a complete prohibition on working. If they decide not to stay in the centres they become destitute and homeless.

Asylum seekers in DP are dispersed throughout Ireland, often in disused holiday camps, hotels, convents, hostels and caravan sites. Many of the DP centres are in remote rural or coastal areas. In these areas, the cost of living is often higher than in Dublin and the €19.10 buys less, and the value of the payment has been further eroded by inflation over the seventeen years it has remained unchanged.

 

Direct Provision: ‘an agonizing and wasted existence’ – ’a form of apartheid’

Echoing Charles and many others who have looked at or directly experienced DP, in 2012, researcher Zoe O’Reilly after interviewing residents, described their life in DP as ‘an agonizing and wasted existence.’

‘They wait in an institutional limbo for a final decision on their claims. Fed and housed through the “direct provision” system, people are kept on the margins of society, unable to access employment or education, and forced to live a “life without choice” … They are simultaneously inside and outside: inside a system which controls their everyday life and decisions, and yet kept outside of mainstream society, prevented from integrating through a series of deliberate measures’. [5]

By December 2000, 62 DP centres were operating, increasing to 84 centres consisting of nine reception centres and 75 accommodation centres. The first report on the system of direct provision in July 2001 for the Irish Refugee Council and the Combat Poverty Agency, Beyond the Pale: Asylum Seeking Children and Social Inclusion in Irelandraised serious concerns about the system. The recommendations were direct and damning:

  • Direct provision should be abolished
  • Direct provision fosters poverty and exclusion within Irish communities. Asylum seekers on direct provision experience poverty to a greater extent than other categories of asylum seeker. Asylum seekers in ‘direct provision’ had household incomes which fell below the 20 percent poverty line. The extreme poverty experienced by asylum-seeking children in “direct provision” is a direct outcome of current asylum seeker policy.
  • Those who have been accommodated under direct provision are subject to a form of apartheid whereby they are compelled to live apart from the majority community without the social and material support structures to interact with the native population. [2]

As the number of DP centres declined there were repeated reports criticising the DP system, most of them largely ignored by the government, and some legal challenges. As far as the government was concerned the deterrent system was working – fewer and fewer asylum seekers were coming to Ireland. There were 11,598 asylum applications in 2002, 940 in 2012.[4] By September 2014 the Irish Times published a leaked memo from the Justice Ministry setting out the policy. Their headlines read: ‘Minister says system is “inhumane”‘ but … ‘State fears alternative to direct provision will attract asylum seekers’.

The reports on the ‘inhumane’ system had grown, together with hunger strikes and demonstrations by people in DP centres throughout Ireland in 2014. The Irish Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, in her report in 2013 on a family in DP, estimated that there were around 1,820 children under eighteen in the centres (around 38 per cent of residents) and 640 lone parents. O’Reilly described the DP system as ‘a collective failure of a republic which needs to re-engage with what ought to be its core values.’ She said under the current asylum process ‘an entire early childhood, virtually an entire adolescence can be spent in direct provision accommodation’.

A seminar at the Tralee International Resource Centre in June 2015 on ‘Children Living in Direct Provision’ considered the Irish Refugee Council’s report, Counting the Cost (2014), which stated that the average time spent in DP was three years, with some people waiting as long as seven years for a decision. As the seminar flyer pointed out ‘With 35% of children in DP under the age of 4yrs, the DP way of life is all they know.’

In 2014, the first ever official state investigation into the system was launched when the Irish government set up a Working Group under a retired judge, Bryan McMahon, responding to the protests across Irish DP centres. They were not given a remit to consider the ending of the DP system, only reforming it. The group reported in June 2015, and amongst their list of 173 recommendations, was an increase in the DP allowances to €38.74 for adults and €29.80 for children. [3]

On 7 May 2015, Pádraig MacLochlainn TD, Chairman of the Oireachtas (Parliamentary) Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, introduced the committee’s damning report on DP, dealing with the lack of rights of residents to appeal to the Ombudsman system:

‘This report on the Direct Provision System is, I believe, a “canary in the mine” moment … This report to the Dáil and Seanad makes it clear to both Houses of the Oireachtas that the Direct Provision system is not fit for purpose.’

The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) figures for June 2017 estimate that there are still 4,691 people in thirty-two DP centres across 16 counties in Ireland. There are 1,248 children under 18 in the centres, 472 of these children are under four years of age.

 

Resisting and exposing DP 

anti-deportation-ireland-july-2012In recent years, academic activists, journalists, a tiny number of politicians, and above all people forced to endure the DP system have begun to expose the system in media campaigns and direct actions.

In August 2014, during a hunger strike protest at Mount Trenchard DP centre near Foynes in County Limerick, three of the protesters said they had been waiting ten years for their asylum applications to be processed. Another resident said he had been in the asylum system for the past 14 years. The local Doras Luimní asylum rights organisation said, ‘some residents have been living at the hostel for the past 12 years’ in living conditions that have been described as ‘overcrowded and inhumane’ which see ‘eight male adults of different nationalities sharing a room, contribut[ing] to an environment that exacerbates the volatility of the centre.’

In April 2015, after further protests at Mount Trenchard over ‘poor food, broken windows, regular outbreaks of fighting’, Jonathan Muhwezi, a resident, told the Limerick Leader that ‘Foynes is called Guantanamo Bay … where they send you for punishment.’ 

 

Newbridge Asylum Support Group

In December, I spoke with two women, Hope and May, who had been in the Eyre Powell hotel, the DP centre in Newbridge in Co. Kildare, not far from Dublin. Hope was from Zimbabwe and had been in the DP system for seven years. She had leave to remain but, like many people in the centres, she could find neither employment nor housing. In July 2016, the Irish Refugee Council published research indicating that in 2015, several months after getting their official papers, 679 people remained in Direct Provision. Hope said that Co. Kildare was the best place for a refugee to try to move on – there were advice services there. ‘The real problem is racism in employment. I am getting interviews but they obviously don’t want to employ a Black woman.’ Hope told me of all the people still in DP after many years. ‘I knew a man from Rwanda, he will have been in DP for ten years, this year.’

Both women were activists in the Newbridge Asylum Support Group and had been involved in protests in 2012. The protest had been raised in the Dáil by the South Kildare TD Jack Wall, who spoke of ‘a detailed written complaint listing twelve areas of concern, signed by a number of residents, sent to the manager of the Eyre Powell centre through the support group. The concerns revolved around food, hygiene and the attitude of management towards residents.

May, from Eastern Europe, who had also lived in Eyre Powell, had her second child in the DP system. She told me of her ‘mental stress over years living in overcrowded conditions in one room. “I was always worried about my children”.’ May’s comments about her children in the DP centres are echoed by the findings of a government survey of 110 children in DP centres completed in 2015.

Children described their accommodation as ‘overcrowded’ and ‘dirty’ and the direct provision system as ‘not fair’, ‘not safe’, and many spoke about older men ‘taking over’ the TV and recreation rooms. ‘There are loads of men bothering us’, said one, while another commented: ‘There is so many men, and . . . they look creepy at you.’ The diets were described as ‘horrible and disgusting’ and ‘unhealthy’ by older groups, and as ‘always the same’ and ‘the food has no taste’ by the younger children, with several expressing the wish their mother could cook for them.

The Irish government refused to publish the survey until forced to do so this year, on 18 July, as a result of a FOI request from the Irish Times.

 

Are cracks appearing in the Irish deterrent asylum system? 

Unusually, over the past few months news of Ireland’s reception policy for refugees has been filtering over to the UK. On 30 May, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that banning asylum seekers from working was unconstitutional. The Irish Times reported that:

‘The seven judge court unanimously agreed the absolute ban was ‘in principle’ unconstitutional but has adjourned making any formal orders for six months to allow the legislature consider how to address the situation.’ (Irish Times, 30 May 2017)

Then on 14 June, Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar, announced an increase of €2.50 per week for adults and €6 per week for children to benefit more than 4,000 adults and children living in Ireland’s accommodation for asylum seekers, the Direct Provision (DP) centres. The rate for children will rise from €15.60 to €21.60 per week and for adults from €19.10 to €21.60 per week from August. The adult support rate remarkably had remained at € 19.10 for seventeen years ever since the DP Centres were set up in 2000.

Lucky Khambule, MASI (Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland) spokesman, said:masilogo

‘We really feel insulted by the newly-elected Taoiseach, who seems to have no understanding whatsoever about what we have gone through in direct provision for 17 years. The Taoiseach said that these offensively minuscule increases would give asylum seekers more disposable income. If our situation wasn’t so serious this would be a joke. We were not consulted on this, no one asked us what we needed. We are furious that people think that €2.50 or €6 will do anything to address the damage caused to our lives by direct provision.’

 

Cracks may be appearing in the DP system but deportations increase

The new Irish International Protection Act (IPA) which came into operation in December 2016, replaced the extremely time-consuming process for asylum seekers: first claiming asylum through the ORAC (Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner), then appealing a negative decision to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT); and finally, if unsuccessful, making a claim for subsidiary protection to the Minister for Justice, for example, claiming that they cannot be returned safely to their country.

All these stages meant long delays, often of years, spent in DP. In 2015 there were ‘approximately 1,000 people involved in judicial review proceedings relating to the various stages in the system, of whom 66 per cent have been in the system for more than five years.’ The new law, which was designed to streamline the application process for asylum seekers to reduce waiting times for decisions, seems to have stalled with the revelation earlier this year that 4,000 cases had been handed on to the Office for International Protection from the previous system, and that these would be given precedence over new claims.

The IPA also increased the State’s powers to enforce deportation orders. Lucky Khambule, on 19 June, described the rise in deportation proceedings since the introduction of the IPA as ‘alarming’. The introduction of the IPA also seems to signal a new period of asylum refusals. Figures up to May this year show that only 101 people have been granted ‘permission to remain’, compared to 532 in total over 2016. Since 2007, 23,506 people have applied for asylum status in Ireland, and the average rate of refusal is 86 per cent. Just 3,285 asylum seekers have been granted official asylum protection in Ireland in the past ten years.

As Anne Mulhall and Gavan Titley said in 2014, DP provides:

‘a holding pen where people are kept for efficient deportation … for protesters, who live with its constant threat in institutions designed to facilitate their removal, an end to deportation is the most important of their demands.’

The names of asylum seekers and refugees who spoke to me about Direct Provision have been changed. Thanks to Shahidah Janjua, Zoryana Pshyk, and Lucky Khambule for their hospitality and assistance with my research and solidarity trip to Ireland. Liam Thornton, of University College Dublin (UCD) contributes regular legal and other comment on DP to the ‘Human Rights in Ireland’ website www.humanrights.ie. And photos and material on the Irish Direct Provision centres can be found at these very useful archives: Asylum Archive, Ireland (2014) Direct Provision Centres and Asylum Archive, Ireland (2014) Resistance 2014. References: [1] The Tralee DP centre features on the current (2017) ‘welcome’ home page of the RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) website. [2] Fanning, B. and Veale, A. (2001) Beyond the Pale: Asylum Seeking Children and Social Inclusion in Ireland. Dublin: Irish Refugee Council and Combat Poverty Agency, July. Download here. [3] Irish Government Department of Justice and Equality/An Roinn Dli Agus Cirt Agus Comhionannais (2015) Working Group on the Protection Process: the McMahon Report, Dublin, June. [4] Irish Refugee Council (2013) Direct Provision: Framing an alternative reception system for people seeking international protection. Dublin: Irish Refugee Council. [5] O’Reilly Z. (2012)  In between spaces’: experiences of asylum seekers in the ‘direct provision’ system in Ireland PhD. Departments of Geography and Media, Faculty of Social Sciences, National University of Ireland (NUI) Maynooth, October. [6] A Hundred Thousand UnWelcomes. Lucky Khambule speaks about Direct Provision on YouTube, published 21 November 2016.

‘How do we get out if there’s a fire?’ G4S tenants live in fear

G4S asylum housing is “a disgrace” according to a recent Parliamentary Committee report. Many asylum tenants can – and have – testified to confirm this statement. But while John Grayson was investigating a G4S asylum hostel in Halifax, West Yorkshire the Grenfell Tower fire happened.

The first named victim at Grenfell Tower was Mohammed Alhajali, a Syrian refugee. We don’t yet know how many people were killed in the fire but reports suggest that some survivors are reluctant to come forward to seek support because of fears that their irregular immigration status would leave them open to deportation or detention by the Home Office

John Grayson’s latest investigation into asylum housing shows how the disregard shown by G4S leaves tenants in substandard and dangerous conditions. One man in the top floor of the Halifax asylum hostel explained “I watched that place burn. I thought I couldn’t get out of this flat if there is a fire”.

Asylum tenants in G4S housing have complained about conditions and lack of respect – despite fears of reprisals and threats by G4S of deportation. In May there were 4000 complaints (from 5000 G4S-run asylum houses). We have documented the inadequacy of G4S’ response many times. We even helped to make a short film – The Asylum Market – about it

Given the fire risk posed by the Halifax hostel – and how many other G4S asylum houses? – we demand that G4S act immediately to remedy the dangers identified by the tenants and publicised by John Grayson.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire it was clear that all residents’ complaints had been dismissed but particularly those from ethnic minorities. As journalist Dawn Foster wrote in the New York Times: “Black and South Asian survivors told me the implicit message from everyone they contacted before the fire for help with the building was ‘you are a guest in this borough and a guest in this country, you have no right to complain,'”

 

This article was first published at Open Democracy as part of the Shine A Light series of investigative journalism on 27 June 2017

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shinealight/john-grayson/g4s-fire-trap-hostel-halifax-asylum-housing-grenfell

Sheffield election candidates on the spot over asylum policies

60 people came to an Asylum and Immigration Election Hustings in Sheffield on May 31st. The meeting was organised by SYMAAG and supported by Sheffield’s many asylum rights groups. We had the chance to question local candidates Natalie Bennett (Green), Paul Blomfield (Labour), Howard Denby (UKIP) and Shaffaq Mohammad (Liberal Democrat) on their party policies on asylum and immigration. We invited a representative from the Conservative Party but they failed to represent themselves.

Amber, Arman and Phillis read out SYMAAG Election Pledges

SYMAAG members began the meeting by reading out our SYMAAG General Election Pledges 2017 on the rights of EU migrants post-Brexit, safe asylum routes, child refugees in Europe, immigration detention, right to work, access to healthcare and G4S asylum housing. These had been sent to 70+ election candidates across South Yorkshire. We received 5 substantive responses (less than in the 2015 and 2010 General Elections) supporting some or all of the Pledges. They were:

Natalie Bennett Green, Sheffield Central Supported all
Paul Blomfield Labour SheffieldCentral            . see statement below
Nick Clegg LibDemSheffieldHallam see statement below
Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield Heeley Supported all
Declan Walsh Green, Sheffield Heeley Supported all

We also received PaulBlomfieldPledgeResponses and NickCleggPledgeResponse

candidates were quizzed for an hour on asylum/immigration policies

After short introductions from the candidates they faced audience questions on their responses to hate crime and racism in Sheffield; asylum seekers facing enforced destitution; child refugees in Europe; levels of fees for asylum applications/appeals; difficulties for new refugees, especially women; how human rights and asylum rights are related and free movement in post-Brexit Europe.

Apart from the UKIP candidate there was general consensus on all but the final point. Labour’s Paul Blomfield stated “when we leave the EU free movement will end” whereas the Greens’ Natalie Bennett pointed to free movement between the UK and Norway and Switzerland, both outside the EU. Natalie Bennett criticised the record of previous Labour and LibDem/Conservative coalition Governments over making asylum seekers destitute after their asylum claims had been rejected. Paul Blomfield pointed to his record in opposing indefinite immigration detention as an MP and member of Parliamentary Select Committees. Both Labour and Green candidates attacked the levels of fees charged to people making asylum applications/renewed applications which amounted to “having to buy justice” and Shaffaq Mohammad of the Liberal Democrats suggested that fees should be charged at levels which only cover administrative costs.

Our Election Pledges displayed next to the candidates

We thank all those candidates who responded to our Election Pledges and who attended the hustings.

People seeking asylum – and many EU migrants – do not have the right to vote in UK elections. We urge those people who can vote to use it to support asylum and migrant rights on June 8th. Whatever the result of the election we will continue to hold MPs to account on their pledges to asylum and migrant rights.

 

all photos by Manuch

Who Supports Asylum and Migrant Rights?

The General Election on June 8th gives us the chance to support parties and candidates in South Yorkshire who stand for asylum and migrant rights. We’ll be helping you decide who they are by holding a pre-election meeting with candidates on immigration and asylum on May 31st 7pm at Central United Reform Church Sheffield S1 2JB.

In advance of the meeting we’re asking candidates to support some key pledges on asylum and migrants’ rights. We’ll publicise their responses before and at the meeting

 

Asylum and Immigration Election Hustings

SYMAAG has organised an Asylum and Immigration Election Hustings on Wednesday 31st May at 7pm in Sheffield where you get the chance to question representatives from the parties standing in the general election in South Yorkshire.

The event is supported by major asylum/migration organisations and charities in our region: Sheffield City of Sanctuary, Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers; Early Asylum Support, DEWA, Why Refugee Women South Yorkshire Refugee Law and Justice, ASSIST

The meeting is at 7pm Central United Reform Church S1 2JB in the centre of Sheffield, opposite the Crucible Theatre The meeting starts at 7pm but doors open at 6.30pm for a cup of tea and a chance to look around the information stalls.

After a short introduction on the main issues facing refugees and people seeking asylum from SYMAAG, the politicians will make short speeches about their party policies, leaving plenty of time for your points and questions.

If you want to ask a question but can’t get to the meeting use the Twitter hashtag #asylumrights and we will try to put your point to the politicians

Here’s a  downloadable flyer for the event  SYMAAGElectionhustings leaflet 2017

 

Election Pledges

By the time of the meeting, candidates in South Yorkshire will have been asked to support 6 key migrants’ rights election pledges summarised below.

  • Guarantee the rights of all EU citizens who are at present resident in the UK
  • Support safe routes for people seeking asylum in the UK. Take a fair share of refugees already in the EU and all children who have family or other links with the UK
  • End the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and migrants. End the detention of children. Close down detention centres
  • Support the right to work whilst seeking asylum in the UK. Levels of financial support whilst waiting for asylum decisions should be equivalent to standard UK benefit rates. Give those seeking asylum full access to free NHS healthcare and to English courses
  • Take asylum housing contracts from G4S in 2019 and give back the organisation of asylum housing contracts to local councils and the provision to housing associations and not for profit agencies

For full text see SYMAAG General Election Pledges 2017

 

We also support the Refugee Council’s General Election Refugee Welcome Pledge and Migrants Organise Promote the Migrant Vote project.

Jaber Abdullah: how I set up a refugee football team in Barnsley

Barnsley, like other northern ex-industrial towns, is often stereotyped as racist and hostile to refugees. Refugees, including SYMAAG members, do experience some wariness, hostility and racism from some in a town still struggling to recover from the closure of coal mines and related industry since the 1980s. Austerity has taken its toll –  as boarded up shops on the outskirts show. The town has the lowest average pay in the UK and high unemployment.

The privatised asylum housing system – run for profit by G4S in Barnsley – tends to house a disproportionately large number refugees in areas with the cheapest housing in ex-industrial towns like Barnsley. Without extra resources for public services for all and without a properly funded and planned integration strategy problems can arise. Problems that racist and fascist groups have done their best to exploit. But some of the trade union organisation and pride in community of the coalmining era remains.

Congolese refugee Djoly campaigning against use of conflict minerals at Trade Unions for Migrant Rights conference at Miners Hall Barnsley 2009. Pic SYMAAG

The Barnsley Community Support Centre, run by the Unite trade union, based in the headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers, has organised ESOL classes for refugees. It has provided benefits and housing advice for refugees and locals alike with volunteers from around the world working alongside local ex-miners. Refugees have joined ex-miners in the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. And refugees and locals have discovered that football is a shared language.

Eritrean refugees carry the Orgreave Justice banner at Durham Miners Gala 2015

The Barnsley Community Support Centre, with support from Barnsley FC helped set up a very successful refugee 5-a side football tournament in 2016. Jaber (“Jimmy”) Abdullah (interviewed below) has been central to getting refugee football off the ground as well as helping refugees settle in Barnsley and linking them to the support and solidarity that still exists in the town.

 

Refugee Tigers football team Barnsley. Jaber Abdullah bottom right

 

Dave Gibson of Barnsley Trades Council presents a cheque to help fund ESOL classes at the Community Support Centre, after anti-racist football tournament. Pics Ian Parker/Brian Clarke

 

The article below is by Johnny McDevitt and first appeared in The Guardian on May 2nd 2017.

Jaber Abdullah: how I set up a refugee football team in Barnsley

Jaber Abdullah, a Sudanese asylum seeker, says he will never forget the day when Barnsley Football Club gave him tickets to go and watch the team play at their stadium. “It was the first activity any of us had done since we arrived in the UK because we could not afford to go anywhere,” says Abdullah, 40, who set up the Refugee Tigers football team shortly after arriving in the UK and claiming asylum almost two years ago.

Having been sent to live in the south Yorkshire town, he saved £3 from his £30-odd a week benefits, bought a football and started kicking it about in a local park. It wasn’t long before he was joined by another Sudanese asylum seeker. Within a few months, the Tigers’ roster had swelled to more than 50 asylum seekers and refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq and Iran, aged between 18 and 40.

The Tigers boast some unquestionably talented players, with the most eye-catching an Eritrean goalkeeper nicknamed “Tesco” (on account of his obsession with the variety of goods on offer at his local supermarket) and a Syrian midfielder monikered “Figo”, who shares the sorcerous skills of the Portuguese great, according to his teammates. “In Calais where most of the boys came to England from, there was a lot of violence, a lot of fighting between the different nationalities. They were arguing over things like territory close to the lorries and it was very tribal there, but now we are one family. Nobody cares where someone is from or what religion they are. We have many different types of Muslims and also Christians,” says Abdullah, who manages the team.

Coaching a team of penniless men who live in constant uncertainty comes with exigencies that Jaber’s idol, Jose Mourinho, does not have to face. “Some of my players are sent back to their countries and a lot leave Barnsley [when they are granted refugee status] for the big cities in search of work,” he says. “Of course, I am so happy for them that they can start to live their dreams. That is the most important thing. But also some of my best players leave and we need stability if we are going to be a great team. But every day we have new stars arriving in Barnsley to replace them so we have a good transfer system.”

Barnsley FC heard about the Tigers and donated kits, offered its Oakwell pitch for weekly training and its training ground for matches, and invited the squad to watch a game. The Tigers will be joining an amateur league next session. For now they play exhibition matches across Yorkshire. Sometimes it’s difficult for the players to find the £3 minibus money to travel and they have to borrow from friends, says Abdullah.

He says none of his players have ever been racially abused by the teams they play. But, as we speak, a car drives past and a young man cranes out of the window and shouts “Oi, blackie, fucking go home.” Anti-immigrant sentiment is not unfamiliar to Barnsley. Ukip came second in three of the four constituencies that dissect the town and there has long been a far-right presence, first with the BNP and now with the English Democrats. Members of the South Yorkshire Casuals II have marched through the town to protest against what they anticipated would be an incoming “horde of Syrian refugees”. But Abdullah ardently defends the town he likes to call his “mother in England” and says he has received more compassion than rancour.

A driver in Sudan, he fled the conflict in Darfur three years ago and flew to Russia, rather than crossing by boat to Italy from Libya because he is scared of the sea. He paid the mafia to take him across the border into Ukraine and then on through eastern Europe – to Germany and finally to Calais. He arrived in Britain hidden inside a lorry, with a small bag of possessions but armed with grand ideas about what life here would offer.

“I thought Britain was going to be a paradise, where I could get my wife to join me, become educated and fulfil my father’s dream for me to become a n aeroplane pilot,” he says. “But the [immigration] system has made my life very difficult. I want to work but cannot. I cannot go to school because I cannot afford it. I cannot open a bank account. I just have my team. For me Britain has two arms. One is the system that pushes me away, the other is the British people who hold me.”

After losing his asylum card four months ago he was evicted from his home and his benefits were stopped, but he was saved from homelessness by a local man. “He came and asked me how much I was getting a week from the government and said that I would continue to get that money from him. He drives to my home every week to give it to me. Last week he came with £100 to pay for my English classes. I tell him I will repay his kindness when I can but he says, ‘Jaber, when you have money to spare give to someone else who needs it’. I will never forget what this man has done for me.”

Jaber has taken on the mantle of a refugee envoy to Barnsley and is determined to change the minds of those who resent their presence.“ Although Abdullah has only £30 a week from the government he now gives some of his money to homeless people. “I say to them ‘this is Sudanese hospitality’. Neither of us will be hungry then.” Abdullah has become a de facto community leader to new refugees in the town. “When a new guy comes here, the Red Cross people say: ‘Go and see Jaber at his house.’ They have usually just come from Calais and have not eaten properly for a long time so I feed them, help them with their paperwork and show them where they can get English lessons.

“It is hard for the young ones. They thought it would be like heaven here. When they are stuck with nothing to do, sometimes for years, they become very depressed and some of them begin to go crazy. I tell them they must be patient while the government deals with their cases but I understand their anger. I am in the same position.”

Thoughts rarely stray far from home, with the conflicts that forced the Tigers’ players to leave. “We went to the moon and the depths of the sea and we climbed mountains. We have advanced in medicine and engineering and philosophy and in every science but we forgot how to build humanity,” he says. “We have lighting in our cities and roads but we have forgotten to light our hearts.”

As Abdullah approaches two years in immigration limbo – not knowing whether when or even if he will be granted refugee status – his mind remains resolutely fixed on the future for his blossoming Tigers.

The Premier League one day? “We have all had very difficult journeys and lost many friends to get here. You can see that nothing seems impossible to me,” he replies.

 

This article first appeared in The Guardian May 2nd 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/02/jaber-abdullah-refugee-football-asylum-seeker-barnsley

Interview and picture of Jaber Abdullah by Johnny McDevitt

 

Some photos of 2016 5-a side anti-racist football tournament at Barnsley FC. Pics by Ian Parker and Brian Clarke. More photos at Barnsley Community Support Centre site.

Behave or get deported, says G4S

About 900 people who are seeking asylum live in the city of Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. For five years G4S, the world’s largest security company, has held the government contract to accommodate them whilst they await the outcome of their claims for asylum.

A couple of weeks ago, visiting tenants in one of G4S’s asylum houses, I spotted a surprising document. Displayed prominently on the house notice board, and marked “Private and Confidential”, here it is:

It’s a letter from “G4S Immigration and Borders”. Dated 10 November 2016, it begins: “Dear UK Asylum Seeker RESPECT IN ASYLUM ACCOMMODATION”.

G4S thanks “the majority of tenants” who respect G4S staff, and goes on: “There are, however, a few who do not respect the officers allocated to look after them.”

The letter reports “a brutal and cowardly attack” by an asylum tenant on a G4S officer in Birmingham, which resulted in the officer being hospitalised and the asylum seeker being arrested and “forcibly deported back to his country of origin”.

G4S then warns that tenants who “are abusive and aggressive will not be tolerated and will be reported to the Police and may be deported away from the UK”.

And: “Unacceptable behaviour is always reported to the Police and Home Office and kept on their records while your application is being considered.”

And: “Those who threaten or attack (with words or actions) may be detained and deported away from the UK.”

G4S signs off with a list of rules, ending in: “You must not participate in illegal activity, including smoking indoors.”

So, here’s G4S telling vulnerable tenants that words alone, perhaps even a crafty smoke, could result in detention and deportation.

What is the legal basis for that?

Notice in a G4S house in Sheffield, April 2017 (John Grayson)

I showed the letter to Frances Webber, the distinguished immigration barrister. Here’s what she said:

“My response is to ask how far has outsourcing gone? Is a private corporation now mandated to make decisions on asylum and deportation?”

Webber explained: “G4S, like any owner of accommodation, is entitled to tell residents that assaults on staff will be reported to police, and if the accommodation is run on behalf of the Home Office, that Home Office officials will also be notified. But a private company has no business issuing threats of deportation, let alone to people who are likely to be particularly vulnerable because of what they have witnesses and/ or experienced.”

It’s not rocket science. If I assault a G4S officer I might have to go to prison, but that’s a decision for the independent judiciary and (i) should not affect my immigration status and (ii) should not be decided by G4S telling the Home Office to send me down and then deport me.

My response is to ask how far has outsourcing gone? Is a private corporation now mandated to make decisions on asylum and deportation?

 

Publicly, G4S has strongly and repeatedly denied that it has any say over peoples claims for asylum. Here’s G4S boss John Whitwam speaking on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show:

“I have no influence or interest in the application which the asylum seekers have, whether they are granted asylum or not is not anything to do with the providers such as G4S and Serco it is entirely a matter for the Home Office.” (His job title, by the way, is: managing director, immigration and borders.)

John Whitwam, managing director, immigration and borders, G4S

Also on the programme was Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP who chairs the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee. In response to Whitwam’s assurances she said: “I know that, and you know that, but for a lot of them, they don’t know that and they’re fearful and that’s the problem.”

This exchange starts about six minutes into the clip, and the date is Tuesday 31 January. That’s a couple of months after G4S authorised the printing, distribution and display of a frightening notice threatening tenants with deportation.

I have no influence or interest in the application which the asylum seekers have.

I asked G4S and the Home Office to respond on the issues raised in this article. The Home Office did not respond.

G4S emailed a statement: “Our teams have no influence on the course of an asylum seeker’s application and we recognise that the language used in this letter was emotive and imprecise. It came following a serious attack on one of our welfare officers that left them badly injured and fearful of returning to work.

“We will ensure that our future communications are expressed more clearly because we have a responsibility to remind the small number of asylum seekers who are violent or abusive that their conduct will be referred to the Home Office and the police. This fulfils our duty of care to the safety of our colleagues and we also believe that it is what the public would expect.

“On the specific point regarding legislation on verbal abuse, there are multiple sections within the Public Order Act around causing harassment, alarm or distress which could apply in those cases.”

 

We recognise that the language used in this letter was emotive and imprecise.

 

So, was it just a matter of some “emotive and imprecise” language?

Over the past five years, working alongside asylum tenants, I have heard many reports of G4S staff, now called ‘Welfare Officers’, threatening them with consequences for their claims for asylum, if they protested about conditions. G4S has a poor record in Sheffield both for the quality of accommodation and for its disrespectful behaviour towards tenants.

In 2015 in one Sheffield G4S house, with eight young men in shared bedrooms, G4S had been inundated with complaints about the very poor conditions and the way tenants were forced to share bedrooms. G4S staff posted their own version of tenancy rules – the Golden Rules, stating they had no choice in sharing bedrooms, and no choice of roommate. When the young men took down the notice and told other people in Sheffield, they were summoned to a meeting with G4S staff and told any further protests would be reported to the Home Office and it would affect their asylum claims.

G4S Golden Rules posted in an asylum house, Sheffield, July 2015

This past February, a tenant whose home had for months been infested with bedbugs told me: “Ten days ago, I was really desperate. The children, particularly my ten year old son, have flashbacks at night and the bedbugs make it even worse, none of us have slept well for months and months.” He showed me his own medical report. It featured “post-traumatic stress disorder… symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks and insomnia…suicidal thoughts”.

He said: “G4S have done nothing about the bed bugs in either of the houses, and simply brought mouse trap boxes to keep down the numbers. So I was determined to keep ringing their Help Line every day until they came to clear up the bugs. On 14 February, I rang them and again demanded action. The operator shouted down the phone ‘If you call again and complain we will make sure that this will affect your asylum claim.’”

 

A Matter of Pride

Sheffield people rallied around Pride Mbi Agbor when he was detained and threatened with deportation to Cameroon in March. For many people, including local Labour Party members it was an education in the cruelty of the UK asylum system. SYMAAG Secretary and member of Broomhill Labour Party in Sheffield wrote this piece for the Branch’s newsletter read by its 650 members

 

A Matter of Pride

Pride Mbi Agbor came to speak to our January branch meeting. He’s a gentle, young man from Cameroon who told us how he came to be in Sheffield. Pride left his country due to persecution of people in the English-speaking South Cameroon area by the Francophone Cameroonian Government, a legacy of European colonial rivalry. He left his home and family reluctantly coming to the UK to study but hoping to return. Soon after he began his computer engineering course in Plymouth he got news that his father had been killed as a result of his involvement in the South Cameroons National Council (SCNC). Pride applied for asylum in the UK in 2009 and was then “dispersed”, the official term, to Sheffield where he was allocated a room in a house run by the notorious private security company G4S.

 

Despite grief, loneliness and a disbelieving Home Office he volunteered with ASSIST, a Sheffield charity supporting destitute asylum seekers. He became a trustee with Sheffield City of Sanctuary. He became more active in the banned SCNC and its UK organisation. His complaints about the lack of heating in the winter in his house led to threats from G4S and brought him into contact with campaigners, like myself, from the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG). He spoke at our AGM in 2014 describing his post traumatic stress syndrome and “paranoia”, fearing “each creak of the floorboard” at night was the Home Office coming to arrest and deport him. Like other people seeking asylum Pride has to report regularly to the Home Office at Vulcan House in Sheffield. Each time there is a possibility of detention and deportation:  “I’m always sick the week before I go to sign” he told us.

 

It wasn’t paranoia. Six weeks after he spoke to our branch meeting Pride went to Vulcan House to report but didn’t come out. He was detained and sent to Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), a former prison, hidden in the Lincolnshire countryside. He was threatened with forcible deportation on March 24th to Cameroon where his membership of the banned SCNC amounted to a death sentence. His mother had already received visits from the Cameroonian police resulting in beatings when they couldn’t find him.

In the 2 weeks before March 24th Sheffield showed what being a City of Sanctuary means. Visits to Pride at Morton Hall, lobbying by Paul Blomfield MP and letters and emails to the Home Office in support of his right to stay and be safe. Pride told me to “thank all the people from your Labour Party who wrote to support me”. But just before March 24th he was forcibly transported to Colnbrook IRC next to Gatwick Airport.

 

Days before the deportation flight to Cameroon was due to leave Pride was released from detention on bail. His deportation was deferred allowing time for him and his legal team to submit further evidence that he had a justified fear of persecution in Cameroon due to his support for the SCNC.  Pride was able to celebrate his 33rd birthday at the Broomhall Centre with his many friends and supporters.

Pride and his friends celebrating his release from detention and his 33rd birthday in Sheffield

But the same week another Sheffield asylum seeker was deported to Georgia. Indefinite detention and forcible deportations are a terrifying but normal feature in the life of someone trying to navigate the hostile and disbelieving UK asylum process.

 

Financial and military deals – illegal under the 1951 Refugee Convention – between the UK and dictatorships in Turkey, Sudan and Libya attempt to stop people ever reaching Europe by establishing “external borders”. Drowning in the Mediterranean Sea is explained as “deterrence. Those people who do claim asylum here – to be officially recognized as a refugee with a right to stay at least temporarily – face Theresa May’s government wanting to create a “hostile environment” for what they call “illegal immigrants”. The recent attack on a Kurdish asylum seeker in Croydon is not just the responsibility of the mob which kicked him repeatedly in the head but that of the media and politicians of all parties who demonise those seeking sanctuary.

The results of a policy of “deterrence” in the Mediterranean Sea

 

People seeking asylum in the UK face “internal borders” too. Not just indefinite detention (the UK is the only European country with no time limit) but restrictions on access to healthcare. Hiwa Ahmedy, a destitute Kurdish asylum seeker with a stomach ulcer was denied treatment at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital on the grounds that his condition was “not an emergency”. “Come back when it bursts” he was told. Campaigns like Docs Not Cops call for healthworkers to refuse to demand a passport before treatment. Asylum tenants are “dispersed” to areas with cheapest housing (already suffering from austerity and poverty), away from friends and communities, with no choice. Landlords are now told to check tenants’ immigration status before agreeing tenancies. Schools demand information on nationality and country of origin, implying that education is not a right. The Schools Against Borders for Children campaign is quick to point out how easily such restrictions could be generalized. Some asylum benefits – amounting to £5 a day – are cashless and their use restricted to particular products in designated supermarkets. Asylum seekers are required to carry ID cards. Again, a testing ground before rolling out to the rest of us?

 

The “refugee crisis” is a business opportunity for some. By outsourcing wall and fence building, detention centres, surveillance, asylum housing and even refugee advice services, governments like ours outsource their responsibilities under longstanding international agreements. G4S who are paid public money to provide asylum housing in our region stated their “priority was to make a return for our shareholders in the asylum market”. Labour councils and Cities of Sanctuary need to use existing housing regulation and environmental health powers against abuses of asylum tenants. A Labour Government should strip G4S, Serco, Capita, Mitie, GEO and all those corporations seeking to profit from asylum seekers of their public contracts. It’s been heartening to see Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Kate Osamor, and others take up criticism of these companies’ role in the “asylum market” and to stand against the dehumanisation of asylum seekers and refugees.

Asylum tenants protest in 2012 in Sheffield at the start of the G4S asylum housing contract.

 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale and intensity of this issue. We need a response that is both global and local. Pride urged me to stress the irony of him being persecuted both by the UK Government and the Cameroonian dictatorship for “trying to uphold British culture” as a member of the SCNC. Cameroon was colonized by the UK, its current dictator Paul Biya rarely criticized. We need an understanding the UK’s role in creating refugees through its colonial history and current policy. It’s no coincidence that some of the most common countries of origin for asylum seekers in the UK – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya – have been subject to British military aggression. Selling military hardware to repressive regimes in Sudan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco (sometimes in return for them illegally stopping refugees crossing borders) could be halted by a Labour Government.

 

But there’s plenty we can do locally. The successful campaign to stop Pride’s deportation – involving many of our Branch members – proved that. Members of our Branch protested at Morton Hall IRC (where Pride was detained) in March. Another protest is planned for May 27th. We are lucky to live in a city with so many refugee support groups made up of thousands of volunteers, many of them “experts by experience” like Pride.

Pride Mbi Agbor one of the many “experts by experience” involved in Sheffield’s many refugee-rights groups

 

Those of us who work in the NHS, in education or local authorities can refuse to act as internal border guards to exclude people without passports, or with the wrong skin colour. We can raise money to support refugees in Syria, Greece, Calais or Sheffield. We can offer our skills and enthusiasm: in advice, sport, art, law, languages, teaching, music, medicine or counselling. We can demonstrate and campaign for change. Or just spend some time befriending people who don’t have the support we might take for granted. How would you want people to treat you if you were forced to become a refugee?

 

By Stuart Crosthwaite

 

 

Some useful contacts for Sheffield people wanting to support asylum seekers and refugees

 

Supporting destitute asylum seekers

 

Teaching English

 

General volunteer refugee support

  • Sheffield Volunteer Centre http://www.sheffieldvolunteercentre.org.uk/
  • Directory of South Yorkshire refugee volunteer groups http://www.symaag.org.uk/links/

 

Law, advice and advocacy

 

Medical and therapeutic support

  • Mulberry Practice http://www.nhs.uk/Services/GP/Overview/DefaultView.aspx?id=35543

 

Support in detention

  • Morton Hall Detainee Visitors Group http://www.aviddetention.org.uk/visiting/visitors-groups/morton-hall-detainee-visitors-group-mhdvg
  • Music in Detention http://www.musicindetention.org.uk/

 

Campaigning

 

International support for refugees

 

 

Sheffield City of Sanctuary and its affiliates aim to set up a Welcome Centre for people seeking asylum in Sheffield. We need to raise/have pledged £50,000 by the end of April. https://sheffield.cityofsanctuary.org/2017/03/31/appeal-for-welcome-centre/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tell people what’s happening in here” at Morton Hall migrant prison

10 years ago SYMAAG organised a 3 day/30 mile march from Sheffield to Lindholme Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) near Doncaster to protest against detaining refugees indefinitely. Lindholme has since been closed. Morton Hall is now the nearest IRC to us, hidden in the Lincolnshire countryside.

After reports of the deaths of two detainees at Morton Hall IRC within 6 weeks we decided to highlight what really goes on inside Morton Hall and show our support for the people detained there by organising a protest on March 11th. It was an experience that won’t be forgotten by those of us at the protest outside the prison fence. Or by people detained inside who were eager to tell us about their treatment by phone or by scaling the fence and shouting out to us. “Tell people what’s happening in here” was their message. One person on the protest, an activist with SYMAAG, wrote this impassioned report of the day. John Grayson has written a detailed report on the protest and what we learned about Morton Hall below.,

Shortly after our protest at Morton Hall a report of an unannounced HM Prisons Inspectorate visit in November was released. Written before the deaths of two people detained there it identifies a “significant decline in the area of safety since the last inspection”. The Detention Forum’s assessment of the report “it looks and feels like a prison” is here and May Bulman writing in the Independent commented that “the devastating impact of indefinite detention can no longer be denied”. She criticised the Home Office’s “out of sight, out of mind approach” to migrant detention.

We hope that our protests at Morton Hall (March 11th was the second – and we’ll be back) let those detained inside know they are not forgotten. And challenge the Home Office’s attempts to hide from the public the stark reality of detention in immigration prisons.

Dignity Not Detention. Protestors gather outside Morton Hall March 11th

‘People come in here normal, but they get ill.’ Protesting against deaths at a UK migrant jail

Intrusive police surveillance deployed against peaceful protestors at Morton Hall. (See also: Child held for 151 days at Morton Hall)

Demonstrators march on Morton Hall immigration removal centre, Lincolnshire, 11 March 2017 (Manuch)

“Thanks for coming, get it out there, tell people what’s happening in here!”

Message shouted through the wire and steel walls of Morton Hall detention centre

Eleven days into 2017 Lukasz Debowski, a 27-year-old Polish man, was found dead at a Morton Hall, a little-known immigration detention centre in rural Lincolnshire.

Fellow inmates said that Lukasz was “young and quiet, never causing any trouble”, that he had not committed any crime in the UK and that he had sought medical help for mental health problems. They said he’d spent his time watching TV, playing games and at the gym.

They said Lukasz had killed himself, and that he’d been refused bail just before Christmas because he could not provide sureties.

His partner, whose advanced pregnancy left her unable to attend the bail hearing, gave birth to the couple’s son on the day that Lukasz died.

The mood at Morton Hall was low.

Just a few weeks earlier, another Morton Hall detainee had died in hospital. A friend reported to the Detained Voices website that Bai Ahmed Kabia fell down in his cell “foaming at the mouth”, that nurses were called at 3pm, and Kabia was taken to hospital four hours later.

“He was really a nice person and was always willing to help people,” said the friend, a fellow detainee: “He would just help people through the goodness of his heart for nothing in return.”

Bai Ahmed Kabia was reportedly 49 years old and stateless, probably from Sierra Leone. The friend said he had lived in the UK for 27 years. Detainees had heard that when Bai Ahmed Kabia was close to death, the Home Office had signed his release papers.

“If he was given bail and left here. People would have been proud and happy,” said the friend. “But the way he left really weighs heavy on your heart. The media needs to know about this. This place is a stressful place. He’s been punished. We don’t have anyone to stand for us.”

Standing up for immigration detainees

Members of SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group) decided to organise a demonstration to highlight the deaths, to show support and solidarity for the 392 men locked up at Morton Hall, and to alert local and national attention to this little-known immigration removal centre in the Lincolnshire countryside. We chose the date, Saturday 11 March.

Protestors march on Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, Lincolnshire, 11 March 2017 (picture by Manuch)

In early February I took a call from Lincolnshire Police Liaison Officer Jimmy Conway 997, a Group B Community Patrol Constable, who is based in Sleaford. He said that he and another liaison officer in pale blue jackets would be the only police presence (with ‘resources’ nearby but out of sight), and asked us to appoint our own security marshalls “to keep everyone safe”. He seemed relaxed.

But then, things changed.

Intrusive surveillance

About 60 people travelled from Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham and Oxford to Morton Hall, near the village of Swinderby, 8 miles south west of Lincoln.

On the morning of the demonstration, just as our coach was leaving Sheffield, PC Conway called me again. He said: “There will be a number of uniformed officers present now John, and a unit who will be filming – you will recognise them by the orange flashes on their jackets.”

Surveillance as deterrence works. Some of my SYMAAG colleagues in Huddersfield and Sheffield had already chosen not to come because they were still in the asylum system. They feared surveillance and its effect on their asylum claims.

PC Conway was true to his word. We were greeted at the gates to Morton Hall by a vanload of uniformed police and a van with members of the filming unit. As you can see from the picture: specialist filming cops were getting close-ups of demonstrators. This is pretty unusual in my experience — I have never seen them openly filming amongst demonstrators at the four Yarl’s Wood detention centre demonstrations I have attended.

Intense police surveillance of a peaceful demonstration, Morton Hall, 11 March 2017 (Manuch)

They didn’t like our photographer filming them. One officer asked him: “How long have you been here in the UK?”

“Twenty two years,” he replied.

Speaking from inside Morton Hall

We had some phone numbers for men locked up inside Morton Hall who had agreed to let us amplify their voices on our sound system.

They told us management had tried to undermine the demonstration.

“They play music and stop us being outside, they also bring ice cream,” one man told us. “When we heard chants and we managed to get outside. We then heard it was people supporting us people.”

Another said: “We heard the protesting and they try to stop us going outside but we manage to. They tell us it’s about a football team.”

And another: “I shut off the music, they will come and grab me today because I stopped the music.”

“Freedom! Freedom!”

About 40 men gathered behind the wire fences. One climbed up the fencing and was able to shout to us. He was Nariman Jalal Karim, an Iranian asylum seeker who said he had been locked up in Morton Hall for six months. He was a physical education teacher who had left his family in the Middle East. For two hours, he chanted “Freedom! Freedom!”

Nariman, at top right of picture, scales the fence and shouts ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ (Manuch)

One man, who spoke for eight minutes, told us: “People come in here normal but they get ill. But they don’t care, they don’t care. There are people in here who shouldn’t be here — old people with grandchildren, some have not seen family for years.”

“People need medical attention, for mental health, for diabetes. They need physical and emotional support.

“They lock us up like prison and it’s bad conditions. They don’t want us to show how we are living here. People taking their lives, we have no release date. You’ve no idea what detention does to your mind and body.

“A hundred of us sent a letter to the Home Office because of how long they are keeping us in here, but they never replied. They treat us like rubbish, leaving us to rot in here”

Among us protestors on the outside of the fence was Kingsley, who had been locked up at Morton Hall. Our sound system carried his voice to the protestors on the other side of the fence.

Kingsley at Morton Hall (Manuch)“They refused me health care,”

Kingsley said. “They treated me like a liar and I had to prove myself. It’s a disgrace. On my first night, I was in lots of pain. They did not believe me. By the third time I asked for help and was refused, I broke everything in the room. They finally called a nurse. They finally called the ambulance.”

About the two recent deaths at Morton Hall, Kingsley said: “One man died because he was not given medical attention. You will be next if you don’t stand up for your freedom against oppression.”

“You have to fight. Never work for £1 an hour. If you refuse to cook and clean, the place will not run. Keep fighting!!”

By phone from inside Morton Hall, one man protested about mobile phones with cameras being confiscated. “They don’t want us to show what it’s like in here,” he said. “But we can’t even have pictures of our families and grandchildren to remember. We’re not prisoners, we’re not criminals, but we would be better off in prison, there we could have our phones.”

Bill McKeith from the Close Campsfield detention centre campaign told the demonstration: “This is an important day to expose what’s going on in Morton Hall. There are ten detention centres in the UK, nine are privately run – this one is run by the Prison Service on behalf of the Home Office. It was a prison for men from 1985 then for women from 2009, and since 2011 the prison changed its name and became an Immigration Removal Centre for 392 men. But it’s still run like a prison – a badly run prison. The contract paid the Prison Service £11m of taxpayers’ money in its first year, and presumably a lot more since then.”

A safe place?

Morton Hall, a former women’s prison, was ‘reroled’ as an immigration removal centre in May 2011. Within months —  in September 2011 — eighteen men went on hunger strike to resist their removal to Afghanistan.

In July 2012 two men took to the roof; many detainees were “upset” over the duration of their detention, the BBC reported.

The Prison Officers’ Association told ITV News in November 2012 that 150 detainees had protested and staff had “been forced” to use their batons. The POA blamed rising tensions on the mix of high and low-risk detainees.

On Christmas Day and 30 December 2012, staff and detainees were injured in disturbances involving scores of inmates. The POA told the Guardian that staffing levels were “at the very, very sharp end of what we believe to be safe”. But the UK Border Agency insisted: “Morton Hall is a safe place for detainees and staff.”

Main gate, Morton Hall (HMIP)

In September 2014 Morton Hall again erupted in a protest after a 26 year old Bangladeshi man called Rubel Ahmed was found hanging in his cell.

In March 2015 Morton Hall joined Yarl’s Wood women and people in Harmondsworth in a hunger strike to highlight conditions across detention centres which had been the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, and a Channel 4 documentary exposing conditions in Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth.

Across detention centres in the UK, figures show that there were 185 recorded incidents of self-harm in 2010. By 2015, that number had more than doubled to 409. In 2015 across the detention estate there were 393 suicide attempts recorded. That’s an average of more than one a day. Morton Hall IRC with 51, was the fourth highest, and had 252 inmates listed as ‘at risk’ of suicide during the year.

A team of prisons inspectors visited Morton Hall last November and reported today: “Half the detainees in our survey said they had problems with feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival. There had been a three-fold increase in incidents of self-harm since the previous inspection [in March 2013]. During the previous year, four detainees had narrowly escaped fatal or serious injuries as a result of self-harm.”

Protest and be punished

In a statement to the BBC Look North programme, after the Morton Hall demonstration, the Home Office said it respected “everyone’s right to peaceful protest” but detention centres were “essential elements of an effective immigration system”.

Directly after the demonstration Nariman and one of the people who had spoken on the phone to us, Raffael Ebison, were punished and shipped out of Morton Hall. I spoke to both of them whilst writing this article.

Nariman told me: “I am in Brook House now, it looks like another prison. They sent both of us here yesterday (Thursday 16 March)”.

Raffael said: “At the end of the protest on Saturday I was taken straight to the segregation block. We had to stay there till they sent us here to Brook House.”

Campaigners at the demonstration continue to support and contact Nariman and Raffael in Brook House. Plans are already being made for another action at Morton Hall. We are determined to shut down Morton Hall…and all detention centres in the UK

Postcript: Shortly after this article was written Raffael Ebison, who was moved to Brook House IRC as a punishment for speaking out to protestors at conditions in Morton Hall, was released after pressure. As of 26 March Nariman Jalal Karim, who scaled the prison fence to speak to us, is still detained at Brook House. We ask you to contact Brook House 01293 566 500 to demand his release. Is telling the public how our money is spent inside immigration prisons a crime?


Author note: Thanks to Lizy for notes, and to Manuch for photographs

Fail, fail and have another contract

Security contractors G4S and Serco and housing company Clearsprings have for years supplied UK asylum seekers with shoddy housing. The contracts carry on regardless.

Fail, fail, and have another government contract

G4S asylum housing, Leicester (John Grayson)

 

For five years now I’ve exposed the dangerous consequences of the UK’s ill-conceived, badly planned and poorly executed rush to privatise housing for asylum seekers. I’ve told of children exposed to health risks in rat-infested homes, a cockroach in the baby’s bottle, lone women intimidated by their landlords.

This home is one of the worst. It’s a terraced house in the East Midlands of England, just off Leicester’s city centre. I call in one frosty morning in early January. Paul comes to the door. He is an asylum seeker from the Middle East who speaks fluent English.

Living with bed bugs

“The house is full of bedbugs, in David’s bedroom, another guy’s bedroom and all in here—.” Paul points to the settee in the lounge.

The room is full of bedclothes and personal belongings. “G4S never clears away what they take from rooms when people leave,” says Paul. “We don’t like throwing the things away, people might come back.”

Four men live here. David speaks to me in Arabic, Paul interpreting. “I have been here over a year and the bedbugs have got worse,” says David. “I had to throw my mattress in the yard and I sleep on the floor. I try and stop the bugs coming in through the floor boards by taping up the room.”

David’s room (John Grayson)

 

Outside David shows me piles of rubbish – infested mattresses, bedclothes, broken furniture.

“Ring G4S all the time,” he says in broken English. “Never come.”

Paul fetches some dead bugs he has saved. David shows me the bites on his arms and stomach.

I ask Paul how long he has been in the house. “Four months,” he says. Paul came to England in a refrigerated lorry— “It was very cold, four people on the lorry had to go to hospital.”

He claimed asylum: “They took me to detention centre, Campsfield. I was there two months, then Birmingham. One month in Kensington hotel.”

I had been to the Kensington, a rundown place G4S used alongside Birmingham initial accommodation centre, for people waiting to be housed.

Paul goes on: “Two months in Birmingham centre, then Stoke.”

I ask him about the Stoke house.

“Really bad,” he says.

After a further two months the Home Office claimed that Paul had been fingerprinted in Hungary on his journey and thus had to be deported back there. He was rearrested and sent back to Campsfield where he spent a further two months. Then in October 2016 he was moved again to the Leicester terraced house with the bed bugs.

Bed bugs (John Grayson)

 

David shows me his leg and a badly scarred knee.

“I get this from torture in my own country,” he says. “I cannot walk very far but I have been given a bus pass.”

The heating has failed many times and the radiator in Paul’s bedroom has broken away from the wall. His window doesn’t shut.

“The walls were falling on me,” Paul said, pointing to cracked plasterwork he had repaired with tape.

A G4S maintenance worker had inspected the house on 12 December and passed on an urgent text message to G4S, demanding remedy. One whole month later David told me nothing had happened. I went back to the house a few days ago. Friends had come to help get rid of the sofa and the lounge had been cleared, but not by G4S. The bed bugs were thriving. Paul showed me fresh bites on his arms.

Victoria Derbyshire — a bad day for contractors

Lately the lives of asylum seekers housed in the UK by commercial contractors got rare prime time attention on BBC television. The occasion was publication of a damning report from the Home Affairs Select Committee who’d found “vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation. . . children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of health care for pregnant women. . . inadequate support for victims of rape and torture.”

The MPs had urged a complete overhaul of the contracting system.

Committee chair Yvette Cooper appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme alongside G4S executive John Whitwam.

BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme 31 January 2017

 

The presenter asked the G4S man: “Would you live in a house infested by rats, mice and bed bugs?”

“No, of course I wouldn’t,” Whitwam said.

He claimed G4S inspections had found defects and addressed them: “The issue is not that things go wrong in a house — they go wrong in my house, they go wrong in every house, but the requirement we have to address them, which we do.”

That was Tuesday 31 January. A bad day for the contractors, but not nearly as bad as it might have been.

The MPs’ report had downplayed evidence of racism and intimidation. Evidence, for example, from the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) who said that “derogatory and racist behaviour” was common among contract staff. Asylum seekers said staff behaviour “made them feel like ‘animals’ and that they were ‘subhuman’.” Others reported that they felt bullied.

The BBC had planned to air testimony from activists and G4S tenants in Yorkshire asserting that tenants who complained had been moved against their will, had been threatened that complaints would damage their claims for asylum.

My colleague, housing rights activist Violet Dickenson, had been invited to take part in the programme as a studio guest. She was looking forward to speaking out about the culture of intimidation.

Out goes activist witness Violet Dickenson. In comes corporate voice Sharon Holmes.

 

But during the weekend before transmission G4S had lobbied the BBC, invitations were withdrawn, interviews pulled. The film clips of asylum seekers and activists (from the film, The Asylum Market, by Brass Moustache, that you can see in full here) were binned. Instead of Violet Dickenson’s live testimony about intimidation, the programme ran a pre-recorded interview with Sharon Holmes, G4S head of business, who dismissed some of the evidence in the MPs’ report as “anecdotal”.

Missing the boat

As for the MPs’ call for a complete overhaul of the contracting system, it was weaker than it appeared. For that ship had already sailed.

Since 2012 Home Office accommodation has been provided to asylum seekers by companies — G4S, Serco and Clearsprings — their subcontractors, and hundreds of small private landlords, through what’s known as COMPASS contracts (an acronym for Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services). The contracts, worth a reported £1.7 billion over five years, had been due to expire in 2017 — unless the government exercised its option for a two year extension.

“Before the Home Secretary signs the next contract, the committee will have things to say,” the then committee chair Keith Vaz MP had told BBC Scotland back in March 2016. “So, we will conclude our inquiry in plenty of time for the Home Secretary to be able to reflect on it before she signs the new contracts.”

That didn’t happen. Instead, the report’s publication was delayed. And delayed.

By 8 December 2016, and still no sign of the report, the government quietly issued a written ministerial statement confirming that the Home Office had extended the existing contracts, and that it was going to pay more — though not how much. “I have increased the amount of money that the Home Office pays for the provision of welfare officers and staff property management,” wrote immigration minister Robert Goodwill.

As for five years’ compelling evidence of rats, cockroaches, racism and intimidation, Goodwill wrote mildly: “There has been considerable interest in the accommodation and support that is provided to asylum seekers,” and he had “listened carefully” to concerns.

“Considerable interest”

What does “considerable interest” look like?

It looks like this:

Asylum seekers “are treated as luggage rather than people who deserve some dignity and respect. Government must get to grips with that with housing contractors.”

That was Sarah Teather MP in the foreword to her Parliamentary inquiry report in January 2013: “Racial abuse and victimisation at the hands of members of the public were striking enough, but more shocking for us were the examples of abject disregard for basic human dignity demonstrated by housing providers.”

A Home Affairs committee report later that year noted: “We were very concerned by the description of the substandard level of housing provided to asylum seekers.”

In January 2014 the National Audit Office reported: “Both G4S and Serco took on housing stock without inspecting it . . . many of the properties they had taken on did not meet the contractual quality standards.”

 

 

The Asylum Market from Brass Moustache Films on Vimeo.

The Public Accounts Committee followed up in April 2014: “The standard of the accommodation provided was often unacceptably poor and the providers failed to improve quality in a timely manner.” And: “Contractors have remained slow in providing decent accommodation for a very vulnerable group of people.”

Red doors and a Taliban room-mate

In February 2016 Stephen Doughty, Labour MP for Cardiff South & Penarth, secured a debate in Westminster Hall: “We appear to have a situation in which the Home Office is contracting a small number of companies to place highly vulnerable people — often, it seems, in crowded or unsuitable accommodation — in a very small number of areas in a small group of dispersal centres and cities, and frequently in areas of low rents and deprivation,” he said.

Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, reported: “A young man in my community who is gay and who has come to this country is having to share a bedroom with somebody who was once a member of the Taliban.”

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East, SNP) said: “We have had refugee houses easily identifiable by the colour of the door; stories of humiliation and harassment caused by the requirement for refugees in Cardiff to wear coloured wristbands; and a level of overcrowding that would be more appropriate in the slums of the 1900s, not the 21st century. It is clear to me that the system is broken, not just in one location and not just with one provider. That is why the Scottish National Party is calling for an urgent inquiry.”

But that didn’t happen.

Labour’s Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said: “There is now a short period until most of the contracts come up for renewal, so now is the time for a review to be carried out so that whatever mistakes were made in the past can be avoided in the future. I think some contracts will expire in 2017, with a possible two-year extension clause, so time is of the essence.”

He said that lately: “I spent the whole day in Oldham, and in the end I came away with the conclusion that the only reason why more than 600 asylum seekers were there was because the unit price per head of accommodating them was lower there than anywhere else.”

Starmer went on: “I lend my support to the call for a review. There is now a window of opportunity.”

As we’ve seen, that window slammed shut in December 2016 when the Home Office extended the contracts.

MPs in the dark

During the Westminster Hall debate, Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North, highlighted the matter of secrecy, how MPs are kept in the dark about how the companies carve up all that public money.

“We must make the companies involved more accountable to the taxpayer,” Cunningham said. “Private companies that deliver public services, such as G4S and Jomast, are exempt from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner has no power to investigate private contractors.” He went on: “It is nigh on impossible to get our hands on the details of much of what private companies are up to with public money. Accountability must not stop where private sector involvement starts.”

Criminal investigation into G4S and Serco

Lack of transparency isn’t the only problem. Both G4S and Serco were caught out “overbilling” the taxpayer under contracts for monitoring offenders — the tagging scandal. Both had charged the Ministry of Justice for applying electronic tags to ex-offenders who were not being tagged. Some were in prison. Others were dead. Serco agreed to pay £68.5m back. G4S tried to get away with paying back £24.1 million but eventually agreed on nearly £110 million. The Serious Fraud Office has had both companies under criminal investigation since November 2013. Information supplied by the SFO prompted the Financial Reporting Council in June last year to open another investigation — into Deloitte’s handling of Serco’s accounts.

During “emergency talks” with the Home Office in December 2015, G4S and Serco used the financial press to air their concerns about the losses they claimed to be making on the Compass contracts. That summer Serco boss Rupert Soames had used an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s business programme The Bottom Line to almost boast that over five years Serco would lose  £115 million on the Compass contracts. “The taxpayer presumably is smiling,” he said.

Financial Times features ‘struggling’ outsourcers, 23 December 2015

 

At the Home Affairs Committee hearing on 13 September 2016, Soames told MPs: “The reasons why the contracts are losing money for us are varied. One is that we under-bid. The price was too low. I have to say that a system of reverse Dutch auction conducted over the internet may not be the best way to establish pricing for a contract to provide care to tens of thousands of people.”

He said the other reason was an increase in the numbers of asylum seekers.

David Winnick MP asked Soames for a copy of Serco’s contract with its subcontractor Orchard & Shipman. Soames replied: “No, sir, I do not think that would be appropriate.”

The National Audit Office in November 2013 issued a warning about the “crisis of confidence in contracting out of public services: “There is currently a lack of transparency over the role that contractors play, the business that they do, the rewards that they make and the way that they perform.”

The NAO explained: “It is difficult to isolate the profit relating solely to their public-sector work. They (the contractors) rarely separate out their public-sector work as part of their segmental reporting. The government only has access to information on the profits contractors make where ‘open book arrangements’ are written into contracts.” Such open book arrangements do not apply to the Compass contracts.

Turning the tide

At a public meeting in Sheffield in 2012, when people learned that G4S had been given the asylum housing contracts, an asylum tenant from Zimbabwe stood up and said: “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord.”

Remember the executive sent to defend G4S’s reputation on the Victoria Derbyshire show? John Whitwam’s expertise is not in housing, nor human rights, nor the asylum system.

G4S executive John Whitwam on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme

 

He’s a military man. As Lt Col John Whitwam he served as commanding officer, Royal Fusiliers. Then, after a brief go at investment banking — at Barclays, according to his LinkedIn profile, he moved into soldiering-for-profit, as commercial director at Pilgrims Group, before joining G4S, the world’s biggest security company, and becoming “managing director immigration and borders”.

Asylum housing doesn’t belong in the private security industry and its Asylum Market.

Tenants and rights campaigners did find some things to welcome in the Home Affairs Committee report. We in Yorkshire had already pushed our local councils to ban the forced sharing of bedrooms. The MPs recommended: “That forced bedroom sharing be phased out across the asylum estate as a whole and that the use of large scale HMO’s (Houses in Multiple Occupation) be reduced.”

And . . . The MPs recommended that future contracts should involve local councils and the devolved nations, and voluntary organisations in deciding on and scrutinising local, and regional contracts for the provision of asylum housing.

Asylum rights campaigners will seize on these recommendations to turn the tide against privatisation and intimidation, take asylum housing out of the market and put it back where it belongs, in public hands.
Asylum-seekers’ names have been changed.

 

This article was originally published at https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shinealight/john-grayson/fail-fail-and-have-another-government-contract

 

See also Kate Smith at The Conversation: “Despite repeated failings, private firms continue to run asylum housing”.

The story of how G4S lobbied BBC to get The Asylum Market documentary pulled is here and you can watch the doc by Brass Moustache Films in full here