“Dignity Not Detention”? Inquiry into Immigration Detention Sheffield September 23rd

This is Rubel Ahmed from Bangladesh who died at Morton Hall Immigration Detention centre on Friday 5th September. Rubel’s death caused a mass protest from other people detained at Morton Hall.




Despite Immigration Minister James Brokenshire claiming that deaths in detention are “rare”, detainees and their supporters know otherwise. There has been more of a spotlight on the abuses that occur in immigration detention this year, particularly after news of institutional abuse of women detainees at Yarls Wood detention centre and recent news that corporations like G4S, Serco and Mitie profit from the exploited captive labour of detainees.


WRW protest


This year also sees the first ever Parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention. SYMAAG is hosting a meeting in Sheffield on September 23rd (see below) to help gather evidence for the inquiry. While there is no guarantee that an inquiry alone will bring justice it is, at the least, an opportunity for the voices of people detained to be expressed collectively and heard.


Sheffield meeting


We hope that organisations in South Yorkshire can contribute to the Parliamentary Inquiry on Immigration detention. There are many ways to do this but we have organised a meeting on Tuesday 23rd September 6.30-8pm at Northern Refugee Centre to collect evidence from those people who have been detained and those organisations which support people in detention.


We’d like you or your organisation to come to the meeting on 23rd with your stories of detention, your ideas about what’s wrong with the detention system and your proposals for how (or if) it can be changed for the better.


As an organisation you could bring details of how many of your members have been detained, for how long, if it was possible to stay in touch with people in detention. You might want to come to the meeting with evidence you’ve already collected before or discuss detention in a friendly environment with us. We can take note of what people say (anonymously if required) and collect the results and make a joint submission to the detention inquiry on behalf of all regional asylum rights and refugee community groups in South Yorkshire.


Dignity Not Detention 4


More information about detention and the inquiry

For more information on how to contribute to the inquiry see the Right to Remain guide and the Detention Action and Detention Forum sites.


There is also a virtual “tour” of immigration detention centres in the UK starting on 14th September via Twitter – a novel way of exposes what happens inside detention to the outside world. See here for more information about the #Unlocked tour


Immigration Detention Inquiry – template with key questions


Below are some key questions for the inquiry. Of course, you are free to present evidence in different ways but this template addresses some of the main issues commonly raised about what is wrong with immigration detention in the UK.


Key Questions for Parliamentary Inquiry
Please include evidence and examples

• What are your views on the current conditions within UK immigration detention centres, including detainees’ access to advice and services? Please highlight any areas where you think that improvements could be made.
• How far does the current detention system support the needs of vulnerable detainees, including pregnant women, detainees with a disability and young adults?
• What are the impacts of immigration detention on individuals, family and social networks, and wider communities?
• There is currently no time limit on immigration detention – in your view what are the impacts (if any) of this?
• Are the current arrangements for authorizing detention appropriate?
• What are the wider consequences of the current immigration detention system, including any financial and/or social implications?
• How effective are the current UK alternatives to detention (e.g. bail, reporting requirements)? Are viable alternatives to immigration detention in operation in other countries?





Key Questions for Parliamentary Inquiry into Detention


• Your experiences of living in immigration detention, including the context and duration of your stay;
• The conditions in immigration detention, including your ability to access services such as legal advice, healthcare, pastoral support;
• Whether there were appropriate mechanisms to deal with any mental, physical or emotional issues you may have experienced prior to or during your time in detention;
• Any longer-term impacts of detention on you, your family and/or your wider community;
• Any other information about detention that you would like to share.

The Dark Reality of Britain’s Privatised Immigration System

In July radical Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein came to meet members of South Yorkshire Stop G4S in Sheffield. We had lots to talk about: amongst many other things Antony has been looking at the role of corporations like G4S and Serco in profiting from the increasingly harsh anti-migrant regimes in Australia, the UK and around the world.


Antony wrote this article (below) published by The Guardian on 25th July


 The Dark Reality of Britain’s Privatised Immigration System


Yarl’s Wood is a Serco run immigration removal centre in Milton Ernest, built in an industrial park more than an hour from central London. Allegations have been made against Serco staff, including of sexual assaults by guards against detainees, yet the British government continues to use the facility.

During a visit inside the centre, I briefly experienced the prison-like conditions suffered by immigrants on a daily basis. After submitting myself to a biometric reading of my index finger – a Serco brochure in reception helpfully informed me that the information could be kept indefinitely because the Data Protection Act is so vaguely worded – I met a young couple from Sri Lanka who were confused and anxious.

The woman was pregnant, and told me Serco staff often didn’t believe her when she said she needed to visit a local hospital for care. She was depressed and worried about her baby. She regularly missed meals and begged me to help them get out. Thankfully, they were released shortly after my visit, to an undisclosed location.

yarls wood


Emma Mlotshwa is the head of Medical Justice, an NGO that provides doctors to immigrants in detention. They offer independent assessments of asylum seekers condition while campaigning for the end of prolonged incarceration. She told me that the system was making people sick.

“The lowest price wins the contract”, she said. “They cut corners, which results in less care, lower paid staff, lower qualified staff – and at Yarl’s Wood, this deliberately aims to fudge responsibility between Serco and the Home Office. Serco often tries to stop us visiting, saying detainees can’t be found or we have the wrong paperwork.”

One thing is clear: keeping the Sri Lankan couple locked up for months was about punishment; they weren’t a security risk, nor flush with funds and able to disappear into the community. This brutal treatment is supposedly a deterrent for future migrant arrivals landing in a country where politics is increasingly defined by leaders who talk tough against the most vulnerable.

The desperation of immigrants behind bars was repeated during my visits to the Geo Group-run Harmondsworth and Serco-managedColnbrook sites, both near Heathrow airport. The centres will be taken over later this year by Mitie, a less well-known British provider than G4S and Serco.

In October 2013, a large fire broke out in Mitie’s Campsfield detention centre. Subsequent investigations found no sprinklers had been installed. Mitie’s CEO, Ruby McGregor Smith, told me that when her firm took over the facility from the Home Office, she wasn’t asked to install a sprinkler system.

She was confident that she had a “good team” to manage what would soon be, according to the corporation’s February press release, the “largest single private sector provider of immigration detention services to the Home Office, less than three years after entering the market”.

I asked McGregor Smith why she thought her company could run these centres any differently than other contractors. She talked of a more “humane” policy towards asylum seekers – she damned G4S and Serco for their failings in Australia, and argued that both firms were clearly incapable of managing remote facilities, but didn’t admit this to the government in Canberra.

She also slammed competitors for having a “prison culture”. “There’s a danger”, she said, “that if you bring in companies who have run some of the toughest prisons in the world to run detention centres, you won’t get anything different. That’s all they know.”

Nick Hardwick, Britain’s chief inspector of prisons, told me that contractors like Serco, G4S or Mitie aren’t entirely to blame for problems in detention centres. “What causes people’s despair in immigration removal centres, the bulk of them, why they are such unhappy and sad places, is because of people’s distress in how their immigration case is being handled. It’s not generally about the centre itself.”

When detainees are released, they still often face indefinite insecurity. In Sheffield, I visited G4S housing in one of the poorest areas of the city. On a windy summer day, with Roma children playing in the streets, I saw squalid houses, with up to nine men packed into small rooms. I heard stories about the Home Office taking years to reach a decision on immigration claims, which precludes many migrants from building a decent life, given their lack of work rights.


G4S in Sheffield is opposed by local campaigners, such as the South Yorkshire migration and asylum action group. The privatisation of asylum seeker housing has led to allegations of corruption, incompetence and wilful blindness. A senior Serco source in Australia told me last year that his company wanted to run all Australia’s asylum housing, concerned that the immigration centres would empty and their bottom line suffer.

The political class in Britain rarely highlights the personal cost of outsourcing the most basic social services. The complete privatisation of welfare services is a real possibility, despite G4S and others failing to assist the unemployed after being paid by the state to do so. Across the UK, Europe and the world, the same few companies are competing for an ever-widening range of contracts.

What I saw and heard across Britain confirms the startling facts: poverty is soaring and the government and corporate media response is to pass these people into the warm embrace of multinational bureaucracy.

by Antony Loewenstein


Detention Inquiry

The first ever Parliamentary Inquiry into immigration detention in the UK is to be held this year. While there are no guarantees that this will improve conditions in detention centres, we urge those who have experience of the centres to contribute evidence. More information on the inquiry is here and see here to get support in submitting evidence.

On Tuesday September 23rd at 6.30pm in Sheffield SYMAAG is holding a meeting to discuss our contribution to the inquiry and to assess whether a hearing of the inquiry should be held in South Yorkshire.

Public Meeting: Syria, War and Refugees 14th August

SYMAAG invites you to a public meeting in Sheffield on Thursday 14th August with speakers from refugee and asylum rights organisations, and Syrian organisations in the UK. The meeting will give facts about the world wide refugee crisis (there are now more refugees according to the UNHCR than at any time since the Second World War) and the massive scale of the Syrian refugee crisis. Syrian refugee families are dying in the Mediterranean desperately seeking safety in an EU country.

syrians at calais

Syrian refugees along with refugees from many countries are trapped in squalor in temporary camps around Calais trying to claim asylum in the UK. Syrians who manage to get to the UK are waiting months for even their first interview on their claim for asylum.

There are over a million Syrian refugees in UNHCR camps – Germany over the past few months has agreed to take 20,000 – in June the UK had accepted just 24.

Come along and get the facts and join the campaign to get action on Syrian refugees.

Thursday 14th August 7-9pm at Houlden Hall, next to St Marie’s Church, Norfolk Row, Sheffield S1 2JB

Migrants speak out at SYMAAG AGM: “It’s great to be listened to”

“Mental Health and the Asylum System” was the theme for the 2014 Annual General Meeting of SYMAAG. 35 people came to hear three local speakers who had first hand experience of this system. Despite the pain of describing their experience of the asylum system all three speakers gave moving accounts to an audience which listened in silence and with great respect.


“Creak of the Floorboard”

Pride Mbiagbor from Cameroon explained that he was used to “arrest at any time” in Cameroon because of his political views. In the UK he feared that each “creak of the floorboard” at night was the sound of the Home Office coming to arrest or deport him. The medication he received to counter his depression affected him badly and induced paranoia in addition to the constant and very real threat of being deported. The result was more anxiety resulting in running from perceived threats, real or not. Like other people seeking asylum Pride has to report to the Home Office regularly. Each time there is a possibility that he could be detained and deported:  “I’m always sick… the week before I go to sign” he explained.

Despite the pressure of life as an asylum seeker Pride volunteers with ASSIST, a Sheffield charity for destitute migrants.


“The UKBA put me on medication”

Nacera Harkati from Algeria explained that “It’s the UKBA which put me on medication”, that “UKBA destroyed our lives” with constant threats to deport her and family along with the hopelessness of waiting for her asylum claim to be resolved. To cope with this stress she too was prescribed medication which disabled her, preventing her from carrying out everyday activities: “I couldn’t even concentrate to  do homework with my kids when I was on medication.”  When she came to the UK from Algeria to claim asylum her husband was not allowed to stay and decided to divorce her: “That way, the UKBA destroyed my family too”.

Nacera is an Executive Committee member of SYMAAG and a leading activist with Development and Advancement for Womens Empowerment (DEWA) and Why Refugee Women


“Taken in handcuffs to the hospital”

Phillis Andrew described his experience of being officially stateless. In particular he told us about his indefinite detention at various Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). He compared IRCs to prisons: “if you’re doing a prison sentence at least you know when you’ll be released” and described the stress and anguish which resulted from not knowing when or if he would be released. He became ill at one IRC and was “taken in handcuffs to the hospital”. “We are treated less than animals” in detention he explained. Phillis calmly explained how he had demanded his rights in detention and been victimised for it: he was moved between various centres and been the subject of an attempt by the Home Office to frame him for things he never did.

Phillis is an Executive Committee member of SYMAAG, active with the Barnsley Afro-Caribbean Together Association and a Community Safety delegate of the Barnsley Equality Forum



Dr Mike Nutt of the Mulberry Practice also spoke briefly. He is a GP at this medical practice in Sheffield and specialises in treating people seeking asylum. Mike paid tribute to the courage and strength of the three previous speakers and to everyone going through the asylum and detention process. He described how the UK asylum system added to the stress and trauma that many migrants were already suffering from (“re-traumatisation”). He also talked about how physical pain and injury could manifest itself as mental pain and illness (and vice versa) and the side-effects of medication. He summed up the brutality of the UK asylum system saying “If you don’t have a health problem when you arrive, you soon will”.


“It’s great to be listened to”

After applause for the speakers there was utter silence and some tears. The first question from the floor was a great one: “How can you manage to relive these experiences and describe them to us like this?”. Pride contrasted his treatment by the Home Office with tonight’s sympathetic audience, saying “It’s great to be listened to”. Nacera and Phillis agreed that they drew strength and confidence from being listened to, respected and taken seriously by people in the UK. They also explained that it gave them strength and boosted their self-respect to work with groups like SYMAAG for the benefit of all migrants, not just themselves. For supporters of migrants rights the fact that Pride, Nacera and Phillis shared their experiences with us is a gift which strengthens our resolve to fight for justice alongside them.


“Hostile Environment”

There followed a wide range of questions and contributions about alternative treatments and activities to medication for mental health problems; of the therapeutic value (as well as political) in telling these migration stories to various audiences, particularly schoolchildren, in the UK. Many people commented that the harsh treatment and persecution of migrants was deliberate Government policy (remember Theresa May’s desire to create a “hostile environment” for “illegal” migrants?). We discussed the ongoing campaign against G4S running asylum housing and our involvement in wider anti-G4S actions like persuading local public bodies not to let them bid for contracts. Speakers from campaigns which supported other demonised groups in the UK – like benefit claimants – stressed the importance of joining together against Government and media scapegoating and the importance of showing solidarity rather than charity towards migrant struggles. The further reduction in access to legal support for asylum seekers was noted along with the run-down and sell-off of asylum advice services to Migrant Help (a company previously dropped by G4S for under-performance…)


The SYMAAG Annual Report (available for download below) and the Treasurer’s report were presented and briefly discussed and elections to the SYMAAG Executive Committee and officers positions were held. A majority of the Executive Committee is now made up of migrants and 2014-15 will see a number of migrant activists trained and supported to take up leading positions in our group.


Download the SYMAAG Annual Report 2013-14 here


It’s official. G4S and Serco asylum housing: “unacceptably poor”

Another Parliamentary Committee, another damning report on the disaster that is privatised asylum housing. SYMAAG’s John Grayson looks at the latest report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on 24 April and the lessons from this squalid episode.


The PAC report comes only a month after G4S were fined over £100 million after a Serious Fraud Office investigation into overcharging for public contracts. Two weeks after the PAC’s damning report G4S were handed another £300 million of public money to run the punitive “Help to Work”  workfare scheme for unemployed people


This article first appeared on Open Democracy on 24th April at http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-grayson/five-lessons-britain-must-learn-from-botched-privatisation-of-asylum-housing


Five lessons Britain must learn from the botched privatisation of asylum housing

John Grayson 24 April 2014

A Parliamentary watchdog reports on the dangerous consequences of an ill-conceived, badly planned and poorly executed rush to privatise

Stephen Small, recruited from Rentokil, G4S executive in charge of asylum housing, gives evidence Feb 2014

Today the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released their Report on the appalling privatisation of housing for people awaiting outcomes of asylum claims or appeals.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge’s comments on the fiasco are worth quoting in full:

“The Home Office decided to replace 22 separate contracts to provide accommodation for destitute asylum seekers with six regional contracts in order to save £140 million over 7 years,” she said. “The change was poorly planned and badly managed and is unlikely to yield the savings intended.

“Three contractors secured the new big contracts. Two, G4S and Serco, had no previous experience of accommodating asylum seekers. Instead of brokering a smooth transition between outgoing and incoming contractors and with local authorities, the Home Office short-sightedly decided to take a hands-off approach and only allowed three months to get the new contracts up and running.”

And that’s not all.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee

Hodge went on: “G4S and Serco failed to inspect and check the properties before taking them over. This lack of information contributed to delays, extra cost, and disruption and confusion for a very vulnerable group of service users.

“The Home Office’s decision to rely on fewer and larger contractors was risky and lies at odds with the Government’s stated commitment to encourage SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to deliver public services. The knowledge of experienced specialist providers has been lost and there are fewer alternative options available to the Department if the contractor fails.

“The standard of the accommodation provided has often been unacceptably poor for a very fragile group of individuals and families. The companies failed to improve quality in a timely manner. None of this was helped by the Department’s failure to impose penalties on contractors in the transition period. It is disturbing that over a year into the contract the accommodation is still not of the required standard and the Department has only chalked up £8 million in savings.

“Progress was also hampered by the failure of the Home Office and its contractors to establish a proper working partnership and to share necessary information, such as forecasts of demand for asylum accommodation.”

Less feistily, Hodge concluded: “The Home Office must insist adequate plans are in place for how it will manage the introduction of any new contracts in the future, including an understanding of what will be inherited from previous contractors, and clear arrangements for exiting previous arrangements.”

So, business goes on.

Cockroach traps, asylum-seeker flat, Leeds 2013 (Grayson)

This is the third major parliamentary investigation and report on the shambolic job the major contractors G4S and Serco have made of the housing of 23,000 asylum seekers throughout the UK. The Asylum housing contract is potentially worth £1.8 billion over seven years and is the largest single contract ever allocated by the Home Office. (The contract goes by the acronym COMPASS: Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support).

MPs, ministers and chairs of select committees have described conditions in G4S asylum housing as ‘appalling’, have exposed harassment of tenants, and gross invasions of privacy. This final report from the PAC goes over similar ground.

The PAC has at last made sure that G4S and Serco have been fined for their breaches of the contract and failure to deliver, but the two international security firms with absolutely no experience of social housing are nonetheless being allowed to continue the housing abuse of vulnerable asylum seekers and their families – potentially until 2019.

Here are five lessons we should learn from this sorry tale:

1. Don’t entrust the housing of the vulnerable to people who understand nothing about them

International security companies like G4S and Serco have been given contracts in the “asylum market” before – in detention centres, as escort guards deporting people. Former G4S guards are at present facing trial for the manslaughter of Jimmy Mubenga. Serco manages the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention and removal centre for women. The Home Office recently refused to allow the UN to visit the centre and Yvette Cooper shadow Home Office minister has called for an investigation into Yarl’s Wood.

This is the record of companies who were seen as suitable to take over the successful and sensitive provision of asylum housing for often traumatised asylum seekers from local councils. As Margaret Hodge chair of the PAC said in the committee hearings there was no reason to privatise the service:

“I don’t believe it is right to say the previous service was poor. I think they…were delivering a far better service than we’ve had so far.”

2. Don’t hand public contracts and millions in public money to companies who continually fail to deliver

And in the case of Serco and G4S illegally defraud the taxpayer. G4S spectacularly failed to deliver its security contract for the 2012 Olympic Games and this year is being rewarded with the security contract for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

3. Do make public contractors like G4S and Serco immediately accountable to regular public and parliamentary scrutiny

Companies running contracts financed entirely from taxpayers’ money should be subject to FOI (Freedom of Information) legislation. Their management and delivery of contracts should be transparent and they should not be allowed to hide behind secrecy walls of commercial confidentiality.

The only reason G4S and Serco have been exposed as slum landlords abusing asylum seekers and forced to appear before parliamentary committees is because asylum tenants have been willing to speak out and campaigners and activists have publicised the  incompetence, corruption and delusion of the privatised contractors.

4. Parliament should give asylum housing tenants the same tenancy rights as other people in social housing

The Immigration and Asylum Act of 2000 stripped asylum seekers of any tenants’ rights, and gave landlords a duty to spy on them in their homes. In practice when local authorities ran the system they defied the government and many asylum housing tenants were given tenancy “licenses” which gave them some protection but also recognised that the tenancy was only temporary. Asylum tenants were given access to the existing statutory right to be consulted by some local authority landlords again against Home Office advice.

In evidence to the Public Accounts Committee it emerged that under the present contract G4S is tearing up agreements with local authorities on numbers and overcrowding.

In Liverpool, according to the Sunday Echo on 16 March, Serco simply does not consult with the local authority and has been prosecuted and fined for conditions in asylum housing property.

The contract also requires (and the PAC Report repeats this) that the contractors Serco and G4S have to ensure that all properties should meet the Government’s legal “Decency standard” for social housing. This requirement has been ignored and G4S and Serco continue to provide appalling slum housing.

5. Don’t hand contracts to people who lack basic human decency

The sordid saga of asylum housing managed by G4S and Serco has exposed the everyday abuse and disrespect for those who exercise their rights to seek asylum and safety in the UK by the Home Office and their contractors.

What should be care and support for asylum seekers has become a monstrous system of abuse and deterrence. Asylum seekers and activists working in solidarity with them are slowly but surely shining a light on the darkest parts of the ‘asylum market’ where the state has outsourced violence and abuse, where people have become commodities — every prisoner a profit centre, every immigrant a business opportunity

This debacle with asylum housing was absolutely predictable. As one asylum tenant said when he heard that G4S had got the housing contract: “I do not want a prison guard as my landlord”. G4S is now facing growing campaigns challenging its appalling human rights record in many countries. Campaigners have recently set out the case against G4S in a comprehensive briefing for trades unions commissioned by UNITE, Britain’s largest union. Members of the Public Accounts Committee should read it, revisit their report and cancel the G4S and Serco asylum housing contracts.


The Stop G4S Campaign has news on the global resistance to G4S, a comprehensive briefing for trade unionists and support on how to challenge proposed G4S contracts. The South Yorkshire Stop G4S Campaign meets in Sheffield – details are on the SYMAAG Events page



UK Watchdog Takes Another Bite Out of Failing Outsourcer G4S

February was a particularly bad month for G4S. At Manus Island, an Australian detention centre for people seeking asylum, the G4S guards were accused of allowing the murder of one detainee, Reza Barati, and of injuring dozens more. The incident forced even the Australian Government, notorious for its brutal treatment of asylum seekers, to investigate events there.

Vigil for murdered and injured detainees at Manus Island, Australian detention centre

Australian Embassy, London Feb 25th. Vigil for murdered and injured detainees at Manus Island, Australian detention centre


“Our Lives Are On Hold”

In the UK, the family of Jimmy Mubenga demanded that the G4S guards charged with his “unlawful killing” urged the Crown Prosecution Service to press charges against them. Jimmy Mubenga’s 19 year old son Roland said: “Until the men stand trial for their action we will remain desolate. Our lives are on hold while we wait your decision.” Jimmy Mubenga was “unlawfully killed” in October 2010 while being restrained by G4S guards. Soon after that, G4S lost the contract to deport asylum seekers but won others to detain, transport and, later, house them.


Angel Lodge

Meanwhile, after a campaign by asylum tenants and asylum rights groups including SYMAAG, G4S (along with Serco and Clearel) were summoned to appear before the National Audit Office (NAO) to answer questions about their use of £620 million of public money to provide squalid and uninhabitable asylum housing. The NAO found that G4S (and Serco) were failing to meet “key performance targets” and placing people in “substandard” housing. In practice in Yorkshire this means that many asylum tenants are unable to move to properties because of damp, lack of basic amenities and furnishings. They are being told to stay in dangerously overcrowded Initial Accommodation at locations like the misnamed Angel Lodge in Wakefield.


“Urgent Improvement”

Following their grilling at the NAO and investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, G4S were brought before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The PAC found that a staggering 55% of asylum housing “required urgent improvement”. John Grayson of SYMAAG analysed the results of the PAC hearing in “UK Watchdog Takes Another Bite Out of Failing Outsourcer G4S”


UK Watchdog Takes Another Bite Out of Failing Outsourcer G4S

by John Grayson 12th February 2014

Stephen Small spends a lot of his time trying to convince Members of Parliament that his employer is nothing like as bad as they think. He works for G4S, the gigantic security company that holds £2 billion worth of UK government contracts spanning public health, welfare, education, immigration and the justice sector.

In November 2010, just days after G4S guards killed Jimmy Mubenga on a deportation flight by heavily restraining him, Small was summoned before the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee.Disputing whistleblowers’ claims that G4S guards commonly used dangerous restraint techniques, Small claimed:

“There is no training in pushing the head downwards. There is training in trying to keep the deportee upwards. There’s no neck holds or head holds used.”

Called back to the Home Affairs Committee in June 2013 Small, a former Rentokil man, tried to explain away why G4S had piled asylum seekers into slum properties riddled with cockroaches and allowed subcontractors to harass and bully the tenants.

Lately, on Wednesday 5 February, Small was summoned to Westminster again. The Public Accounts Committee, whose job is to see that taxpayers get value for money, wanted to interrogate him. They’d been considering a reportfrom the National Audit Office (NAO) on asylum housing and the contracts held by G4S and Serco.

An attractive market

Campaigners and asylum seeker tenants in Yorkshire and the North East of England had provided the National Audit Office with a mountain of evidence of incompetence, corruption and delusion since 2012 when the Home Office privatised asylum public housing. An attractive market: publicly funded social housing, compliant tenants with no legal tenancy rights, offered ‘no choice’ housing. It promised £1.8 billion of taxpayers’ money to outsourcing companies G4S, Serco and Reliance, their partners and subcontractors.

All three lead companies had a record of abuses in the brutal immigration detention and deportation ‘asylum markets’ and no experience of social housing management.

Public Accounts Committee chair, Labour’s Margaret Hodge, was scathing about G4S and its lack of experience in social housing for vulnerable people. Stephen Small contradicted her, claiming G4S had relevant experience in the “welfare and care of people in all sorts of situations-from prisons to childrens’ homes to immigration removal centres”.

 G4s demo1

Prison riots and death by restraint

G4S has run privatised UK children’s prisons, or secure training centres, since 1998. Fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt died in April 2004 under ‘restraint’ by G4S staff at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby. In a High Court judgment on 11 January 2012, Mr Justice Foskett found it highly likely that large numbers of children were unlawfully restrained in secure training centres run by G4S (and Serco) between 1998 and 2008.

G4S Children’s Services had eight small childrens homes in 2013. Last summer OurKingdom exposed the company’s “concealment and trickery” in applying for planning permissions for childrens’ homes under executives’ personal identities, withholding the G4S name. The company’s Children’s Services Manager for Safety Health & Environment in 2013 had been involved in the lethal restraint of Gareth Myatt in 2004.

Small drew to MPs’ attention G4S’s management of prisons, but he neglected to mention that inefficiency had in 2011 cost them the contract for Wolds Prison. Nor did he mention the recent violent disturbance at G4S-run Oakwood Prison, in Birmingham, which prison officers described as a “full scale riot”. (The line agreed by G4S and the governent: “concerted indiscipline”).

Other corporate highlights that Small chose not mention: G4S involvement in Israeli prisons for Palestinian children, and their removal from management of South Africa’s Mangaung prison amidst accusations of torture.

Under questioning from Austin Mitchell MP, Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill admitted that the housing contracts were “driven” by Home Office cuts in 2012.

“That is the primary motive of any commercial arrangement. The aim was to save money while also maintaining a service that was adequate for the asylum seeker,” Sedwill said.

He claimed that the previous contracts, mainly run by local authorities, would have been much more expensive— £826 million compared with the outsourcers’ £687 million. He claimed (contrary to the evidence in the NAO Report) that £27 million had already been“saved” in the first eighteen months.


Evidence suggests public provision was sound

Margaret Hodge said that relying on the private sector inevitably meant higher rents and lower standards for “this vulnerable group”. Sedwill insisted that the outsourced asylum contract would in the end deliver better standards than the previous arrangements. Hodge disagreed, citing Joseph Rowntree Foundation research that demonstrated the effectiveness of local authorities in managing asylum housing. She said:

“I don’t believe it is right to say the previous service was poor. I think they…were delivering a far better service than we’ve had so far.”

G4S and Small were confronted by questions from members quoting asylum tenants themselves. Ian Swales, the Liberal Democrat MP for Redcar, challenged G4S and its definition of‘acceptable accommodation’. He spoke of one asylum seeker who stayed in the G4S/Jomast Stockton hostel with her child and then, after getting her right to remain in the UK, went to a homeless hostel.

She “could hardly believe how wonderful it was, it was like arriving in heaven,” Swales said.

The MPs were clearly shocked by G4S and Serco’s failure to inspect properties before allocation to asylum seekers. The result was what Labour’s Austin Mitchell described as“unacceptable conditions, some of which were frankly appalling”.

Not one MP on the committee asked Home Office witnesses to explain why they were happy to hand asylum housing contracts to G4S, known to asylum seekers as the company that killed Jimmy Mubenga.

James Thorburn, Serco’s Managing Director, Home Affairs went unchallenged when he told the MPs that Serco qualified for the asylum housing contract because ”we care for a lot of vulnerable people and we run two immigration centres, so we understand the immigration market.”

Serco’s “immigration market” includes the notorious Yarl’s Wood women’s detention and removal centre where in October 2013 two Serco staff were sacked for sexual abuse of women inmates.

Fraud and criminality

The Public Accounts session was held in the shadow of Serious Fraud Office criminal investigations into both companies’ overcharging and fraud on electronic tagging contracts. John Fernau, Commercial Director at the Home Office, said he was “shaken by that news (of the tagging scandal) and was worried that we might find ourselves in the same situation”. He assured the committee that in the housing contracts there “were no improprieties”.

Mark Sedwill for the Home Office maintained that the new housing contract was meant to raise standards to make them “adequate for asylum seeker housing”and house the “genuinely vulnerable”, but also to deter the bogus vulnerable.

“Home Office staffs are very conscious that we are dealing with a population that has a large number of very vulnerable people, particularly women with young families, who have been trafficked and in many cases are still subject to abuse. People really care about that and are quite careful about how they interact with them……but we also need to keep in mind that there is a significant proportion of the asylum seeking population who are seeking to do so (that is, claim asylum housing and support) simply to prolong their stay in the U.K. They do not always present very differently from the genuinely vulnerable, so it is a challenging area of work for us.”

G4S and Serco are making profits from the UK’s asylum ‘support’ regime, which immigration barrister Frances Webber has described as a “system of institutionalised inhumanity” designed not to support those seeking asylum in the UK, but to deter others from coming to the UK. In the UK, where the state has outsourced its monopoly of violence to private corporations like G4S and Serco, the media, pollsters and politicians createan illusion that common sense values and principles have shifted to a view that asylum seekers are almost always “bogus” “failed” or “illegals”.

Racism and intolerance filters down to the front line management and staff of the Home Office and the staffs of the privatising companies. After the Inquest on Jimmy Mubenga the coroner decided to bring attention to “endemic racism” and the “pervasive racism within G4S”.

The Home Office wants a service“adequate” for asylum seekers in the slum private rented sector, and it wants to deter the bogus vulnerable. Labour, who consistently pressed for privatisation of the housing contracts, and Coalition ministers in 2012, knew exactly what they were doing in turning over 20,000 asylum seekers to the mercies of G4S and Serco and the UK private sector housing market. They had a previous National Audit Office report (from 2005) to show what could happen – fraud, corruption, and disgusting accommodation for thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers simply waiting for the outcomes of claims for their rights to asylum.

Coalition ministers continued Labour’s policy of cutting back harder on asylum support than for other welfare claimants. The privatisation contracts should also be seen in the context of austerity cuts and deficit reduction; tantamount to a declaration of war on the poorest and most vulnerable.

Business as usual

The Financial Times reported in July 2013 Capita’s chief executive Paul Pindar‘s confident prediction of continued handouts from taxpayers to privatising and outsourcing corporations:

“The UK’s fiscal deficit would ensure increasing involvement of the private sector in delivering public services, despite growing concerns that outsourcers are failing to give taxpayers value for money. G4S and Serco – that (tagging scandal) row is a complete distraction . . . If you look at the deficit the UK is grappling with, I genuinely don’t believe there will be a knock-on effect. When you talk to the guys in central government, Bill Crothers [chief procurement officer], Francis Maude [Cabinet Office minister], they are very keen to involve the private sector and they are going to push as far ahead with that as they can get.”

In August 2012 Capita bought Reliance Security and its asylum housing contract interests for £20 million. From 1 April 2014 Capita will take over the discredited tagging contracts from G4S and Serco. Of the £4.2 billion of government contracts out to tender, in 2013/14 about 60 per cent are funded by taxpayers.

The voices from asylum seeker tenants surfaced occasionally in the Public Accounts Committee last week. The committee even persuaded Home Office officials to agree that it was a mistake to give the contracts to huge companies with no experience of housing. They conceded that in future it would probably be a good idea to “disaggregate” future provision to small companies and housing associations. That’s of little comfort to people now living in asylum housing. The contracts have more than five years to run. The disrespect and humiliations go on and on.


This article originally appeared on the Open Democracy website at http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-grayson/uk-watchdog-takes-another-bite-out-of-failing-outsourcer-g4s


“Praising Mandela but Promulgating Immigration Apartheid. Stop the Immigration Bill!”

120 people demonstrated today in Sheffield against the Immigration Bill on International Migrants Day.


Protestors held a rally outside Sheffield Town Hall with speakers from the Movement for Justice, People’s Assembly, Labour Councillor Mohammed Maroof, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, church groups, Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers and migrants who had fought (and won) their right to live in the UK. Paul Blomfield MP for Sheffield Central sent a message of support.


We gave out 300 leaflets titled “Season’s Greetings to All…except migrants?” You can download Immigration Bill demo leaflet  here


A very British placard. Outside Home Office: fighting the Immigration Bill with understatement

A very British placard. Outside Home Office: fighting the Immigration Bill with understatement


Placards read: “Praising Mandela but Promulgating Immigration Apartheid. Stop the Immigration Bill!”   “Migrants are Not to Blame for Austerity”   “Healthcare For All- Including Migrants”  “Immigration Bill – A Snoopers Charter” “Free Movement is A Human Right”


Detailed report to follow…


Call out: Demonstrate Against the Immigration Bill 18th December



***stop press***Green Party leader to speak at rally Town Hall 12.30pm

Join the regional demonstration against the Immigration BIll in Sheffield on December 18th, International Migrants Day.


Meet at the bottom of The Moor S1 4PL (near new market) at 12noon. March to the Town Hall arriving at 12.30 then to UK Border Agency, arriving at Vulcan House S3 8NU at 1pm


We will also be meeting before the demo at 10.30am 18th December at the Northern Refugee Centre office in Sheffield to make  placards and final preparations for the demo.


Download a flyer at Demonstrate against the Immigration Bill leaflet



We hope that you and your organisation will support this regional protest, on Wednesday December 18th in Sheffield, against the latest Immigration Bill which was described by Theresa May as aiming to “create a really hostile environment” for people she calls “illegal migrants”. The main results of the Bill – if it becomes law – are….


·         That private landlords and banks should check the immigration status of prospective tenants. But understanding immigration status is complex. This will lead to racial profiling and discrimination.

·         To limit appeal rights and an increase in appeals that can only be made from abroad. But Home Office decision making is poor – 40% of appeals succeed. Taking away the right to appeal will make the system even more unfair.

·         A charge on all migrants, without indefinite leave to remain, for use of the NHS. This idea is based on the myth of health tourism. But migrants are more likely to being working in the NHS than using it: 30-40% of all doctors and nurses were born outside the UK.


We think that the only people who should find the UK “a hostile environment “ are those who seek to promote racism and division in the pursuit of anti-immigrant votes


Please spread the word, get your organisation to support the protest and come to the demonstration on December 18th


immigration bill demo unite


You can find out more about the Immigration Bill – and protests against it:






There is information about the Bill, it’s progress through Parliament at http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/blog/2013/11/immigration-bill-committee-evidence-sessions-highlights

SYMAAG submitted the following written response to the Immigration Bill consultation at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmpublic/immigration/memo/ib13.htm


Rats in the “asylum market”: Time to cancel the COMPASS contract

On November 8 three G4S immigration detention centre officials at Brook House were found to have forged documents relating to an asylum seeker who was about to be deported. It could have cost the man his life. On November 5 the Home Office announced a 30% increase in the G4S contract at …Brook House. The day before this Home Office endorsement of G4S, the Serious Fraud Office began its investigations into G4S and Serco (itself currently accused of sexual abuse at Yarls Wood detention centre).


And all of this just 4 months after G4S were found guilty of unlawfully killing Jimmy Mubenga during his deportation. The Home Office issued a “qualified apology” for his death at the hands of G4S, which it had employed to do its forced deportation work at the time.


Last year the UKBA/Home Office employed G4S to house and transport asylum tenants including in Yorkshire, Humberside and the North East with a contract potentially worth £1.8 billion of public money over 5 years – the largest ever Home Office contract.  Asylum tenants, alongside groups like SYMAAG,  have documented in detail the lack of respect and abuses of G4S and their sub-contractors and challenged the company


G4S and Serco executives were questioned by a Parliamentary committee in June 2013  and last month SYMAAG presented further detailed evidence of to a Home Affairs select committee which examined the COMPASS asylum housing contracts. The committee reported that it was “alarmed” by the “sub-standard level of housing” provided by G4S (and the other private providers, Serco and Clearel)


During this time, SYMAAG’s John Grayson got to know more about life in G4S asylum housing in Yorkshire, meeting Esther, pondering on the gulf between a Parliamentary committee report and her young child counting rats in their G4S home in Living with rats. Landlord G4S. In a second new article G4S owes thousands of pounds on energy bills John shows how G4S is breaking the terms of its asylum housing contract leaving Esther and her daughter to “live in darkness”.



Resistance to G4S human rights abuses and fraud is global

Protests against G4S’ abuse of asylum detainees and of prisoners are global including Palestinian prisoners organisations and South African trade unions.

Stop G4S brings together all of those opposed to G4S taking over public services for private profit while violating human rights.

There are many local Stop G4S groups, new and very active is Manchester Stop G4S


Syrian Refugees Protest at Calais

As more and more people flee the war in Syria, a small number of refugees have managed to reach Europe, seeking sanctuary.



Around 65 Syrian refugees are staging a blockade of the Calais ferry terminal, demanding to speak to a representative of the UK Home Office. Some are on hunger strike.


Last month at the G20 meeting in Saint Petersburg, David Cameron said that responding to the war and displacement in Syria was “…a moral imperative. This is the big refugee crisis of our time.” And yet the UK refuses to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees.


It’s time that the UK government’s rhetoric on the Syrian war was turned in to action.



Syrian refugees at Calais

Message from Calais Migrant Solidarity:


UK call out: Campaign for Syrian refugees blockading port of Calais.


65 Syrian refugees have been staging a blockade of the Calais ferry terminal for over ten hours now, demanding to speak to a representative of the UK Home Office. Some are on hunger strike.


After fleeing shelling and persecution in Syria, the refugees endured further brutality in Europe. In the small French port town they have been subject to evictions from emergency shelters, destruction of possessions and repeated arrest.


The blockaders have therefore resorted to direct action to have their voices heard. They are refusing to leave until their demands are met.  In a town where the police act with considerable impunity on a daily basis, it is important that the blockaders receive solidarity from beyond Calais in publicising their demands.


The group of refugees say:

‘We are now demonstrating in the port of Calais, we will not leave until they let us go to England. We demand one person from the UK home office comes here to speak with us, and to see our situation. We have the right to claim asylum in england, but how do we get there? There is not a legal way to cross. We are about 65 people from Syria at the port at the moment, with our families, old women, mothers, children the youngest being three years old and friends.’



What You Can Do


this article first appeared on the website of the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns at http://ncadc.org.uk/blog/