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

 

“Re-traumatisation”

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.

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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.

IMG_1782

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.

g4s-secure-injustice

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:

http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/files/publications/MRN-Immigration-Bill-briefing-Oct-2013.pdf

http://ncadc.org.uk/blog/2013/11/stop-the-immigration-bill-a-regime-of-harassment-for-migrants/

http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/protest-and-lobby-of-parliament-against-the-immigration-bill/

http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/new-immigration-bill-will-increase-racism

http://www.symaag.org.uk/2013/10/20/migrant-rights-to-healthcare-public-meeting-october-29th-sheffield/

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).

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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.

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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

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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)

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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”.

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 g4s-secure-injustice

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.

 

syria72

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/

 

After Jimmy Mubenga unlawful killing verdict: Could asylum seekers have a worse landlord than G4S?

Our campaign against G4S housing people seeking asylum began in January 2012 when a Zimbabwean member of SYMAAG said: “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord”. Jimmy Mubenga’s inquest recently returned a verdict of “unlawful killing” while he was being ‘escorted’ by G4S during a forced deportation. G4S are still landlord to thousands of people seeking asylum in Yorkshire, Humberside, the north east and the midlands…SYMAAG’s John Grayson looks at the issues

 

 

 

• Inquest jury return unlawful killing verdict • Jimmy Mubenga died after ‘restraint’ by three G4S guards • G4S executives David Banks and Stephen Small gave flawed evidence to UK parliamentary committee about restraint techniques • Lately Stephen Small dismissed allegations about abuse of asylum seekers housed by G4S

 

Today an inquest jury delivered a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of Jimmy Mubenga, who died on a deportation flight after being restrained by three G4S guards. Thanks to privatisation, some of the most vulnerable people in Britain have G4S as their landlord. Recently G4S executive Stephen Small was summoned to appear before the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee to answer questions about his company’s housing of asylum seekers in the north of England.

 

Small showed his nerves. That’s hardly surprising for evidence he gave during a previous appearance has since been exposed as unreliable.

 

Unreliable evidence, 2 November 2010

 

Let’s recall the moment. Small was managing director of G4S Detention and Escorting. It was 20 days after Jimmy Mubenga had died in his division’s care after being restrained on a deportation flight. Small and his boss David Banks (head of G4S ‘Care & Justice’) were rattled. The Home Office had just handed their contract to a cheaper contractor. “It came as a great shock,” said Banks of the loss of the contract. Neither man expressed feelings about the death of their detainee.

 

About the restraint techniques G4S used on people in their care, Small told the committee: “we may hold their head up when they’re trying to put their head down, but we do not use any holds that involve pushing the head down towards their body.”

 

A few months later he was contradicted by whistleblower testimony reported in the Guardian. Managers had been repeatedly alerted that refused asylum seekers who became disruptive on flights were being “forced into submission” with their heads placed between their legs, the whistleblowers said. G4S guards called it jokingly “carpet karaoke”.

 

While Mubenga’s widow and children grieved, Stephen Small got a promotion. Small, who had joined G4S in January 2010 direct from Rentokil (the pest control company) became G4S director, Immigration and Borders.

 

Unreliable evidence, 25 June 2013

 

Last Summer Small’s G4S division landed part of what committee chair Keith Vaz called a ‘massive’ UK government contract for asylum housing. Small told the committee that G4S’s slice was £30 million-a-year.

 

Vaz asked Small about the Stockton mother and baby hostel whose residents have spoken of “living in cells”. Vaz quoted from theGuardian’s interview with one mother.

 

She said “the whole floor has diarrhoea and”there “is vomiting” on the floor. “An ambulance comes to the building every week.”

 

Vaz asked Small: “Do you recognise that description?”

 

Small replied: “we do not recognise that description. In fact, after that article appeared . . . we had — unsolicited —a number of the residents in that building write to us to say themselves they did not recognise it. They did not recognise the description of the housing officers who attended it. So my answer is I do not recognise that description at all.”

 

I have visited the Stockton hostel several times. I have sat with and listened to Stockton residents. I can vouch that conditions are oppressive, unhealthy and totally unsuited to the early development of the thirty-eight babies and toddlers who are housed there.

 

How much is this thirty-room hostel costing the taxpayer? Funding information disclosed to the committee suggests that we are paying around £22,000 per month in rent to G4S and its subcontractor Jomast.

 

In February the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) and a range of other asylum rights organisations, made a submission to the committee. We documented case study after case study of appalling housing conditions, and disrespect and abuse of asylum seekers in G4S publicly funded asylum housing.

 

Committee members Julian Huppert and David Winnick made good use of the briefings and case studies in their interrogation of Stephen Small, and of Jeremy Stafford CEO of Serco for UK and Europe, who gave evidence alongside Small.

 

David Winnick Labour MP for Walsall said:

“I want to ask you whether you are aware of the complaints that are often made to us – be it as Members of Parliament or in evidence by those organisations that represent asylum seekers – that your organisations …are insensitive to asylum seekers?”

 

The former pest control man replied: “We do recognise the vulnerability and the difficult time that an asylum seeker is going through at this point when they are in our care. We have a long history in G4S of working with vulnerable people . . . Many of the reports that have been published we do not recognise.”

 

Mr Winnick:“You do not recognise?”

 

Stephen Small:“Some of them have been completely unsubstantiated.”

 

G4S always knocks first

 

Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge asked Small about one woman “who was forced to stay nearly a month with her five month old baby in a Cascade property – I think that is a G4S one – in a house with wet rotten floors infested with cockroaches and slugs. . . The city council environmental health inspector described it as capable of becoming a category 1 hazard unfit for human habitation in its current condition, which strikes me as bad. I am sure that is not what you intend to provide and may well not even be a majority, but do you accept that there are cases where the accommodation simply is not appropriate for people? Do you accept that does happen?”

 

Small replied: “we inherited a lot of the issues and we are addressing them quickly.”

 

Commercial contractors hold keys to asylum seekers’ homes and commonly let themselves in, unannounced.

 

MPs challenged both G4S and Serco on this. Huppert said: “May I just have it very clearly from you both that nobody should be entering properties unannounced except potentially in some sort of emergency?”

 

Small gave a long and rambling response about making appointments, knocking on doors, ringing bells, then he said: “Where there is no answer after repeated attempts, we must and have the right to enter the property to ensure that it is still being inhabited by the asylum seeker.”

 

(Now there’s a phrase: “inhabited by the asylum seeker”).

 

Huppert said: “Again, you are describing a theory and if that were the case that would be good. What I cannot do is fit that with the comment, for example, from Sarah Teather, ‘Almost every family told us that housing contractors routinely enter properties without knocking’.” (Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather led the recent Parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people).

 

Contractors bid low to secure the business

 

Serco’s Jeremy Stafford let slip an astonishing revelation. He claimed that the Home Office contract paid Serco £11.71 for each single person in dispersed asylum housing each night, and £30.28 per night for each single asylum seeker in dispersal centres like Birley Court in Liverpool. Remarkably, he suggested that so far as Scotland and Northern Ireland were concerned, Serco handed on all but 21p per person per night to its main subcontractor, Orchard and Shipman.

 

An astounded Keith Vaz said: “You are telling this committee that Serco makes 21p per asylum seeker?”

 

Jeremy Stafford: “That is correct.”

 

Later Vaz came back to the point: “At the moment Mr Stafford I am not sure what your shareholders are going to say, but 21p does not sound a huge amount of money for one of the biggest service providers in the world.”

 

Stafford admitted what campaigners had long suspected, that the G4S and Serco bids were, in effect, ‘loss leaders’. Or, as Keith Vaz put it:

 

“You obviously put in a bid that was quite low; that is why you got the contract.”

 

Stafford explained that Serco was:

 

“Very focused on building an accommodation business . . . we felt that we could establish a very good platform that we felt was scalable . . . some of the services that we develop in the United Kingdom we then go and take to other geographies . . . For us, we felt accommodation management was an important development area.’”

 

In other words the outsourced and privatizing housing contracts would give the security companies experience in asylum markets as a way into asylum and mainstream housing markets in the UK and abroad.
Is that it?
Or are these contractors bidding low to win the business, and then working to fatten the margin by degrading the service?
Or are they planning to sell the contracts on?
Or are they just spinning us a line? And making their big money on the management fee?

 

Stephen Small would not tell the committee how much G4S was being paid. He said it was complex, varying each night and in ‘bands’. He promised to send the information to the committee later.

 

It’s all about subcontracting

 

Keith Vaz laid bare the nature of this privatisation: “Prior to the contract being given to yourselves and G4S and Reliance, this was being administered by a number of SMEs [small/medium sized enterprise] . . . The contract was then given to all three of you and you all have subcontracted. Your subcontractors, Mr Small, I think are Urban Housing, Target Housing, Jomast Ltd, Live Management Group, Cascade and Fentons.”

 

(Vaz underplays the scale of privatisation. Many of the previous contracts were coordinated and serviced by consortia of local councils. I’ll be writing to the Home Affairs Committee to clarify this).
Turning to Serco’s man, Vaz said: “We have a list that begins with Happy Homes Ltd all the way down to First Choice Homes, Cosmopolitan Housing. I can see about 20 or sosubcontractors. So it is not really Serco that is providing this accommodation, is it? You have taken the contracts and then you have subcontracted it out to somebody else. In Serco’s case you do not have direct management of these places. You take a management fee, I would imagine.”

 

Vaz questioned Small on the crisis amongst G4S subcontractors that Small himself inadvertently exposed in a memo that was leaked to the press.

 

Chair “…you in your own memo of 25 February, which has got into the public domain, said the subcontractors were having to face ‘property defects’ and ‘issues with the pastoral care offered to Service Users’. Was that your memo?”

 

Stephen Small:“That was my memo.”

 

Chair: “That is quite serious isn’t it?”

 

Stephen Small:“It was, and the main issue they had Chair, was . . . that properties were not up to the standard that is required . . . and it required a huge amount of investment, time and energy, which Mantel as an SME were never structured to do.”

 

Small outlined what G4S was doing about their subcontractors in the Midlands, East of England and South Yorkshire, after Mantel’s withdrawal and Live Management’s financial crisis.

 

Stephen Small: “What we have done, Mr Chair is that we have now secured the properties . . . We have also transferred the staff that were delivering the frontline service for Mantel into G4S.” What Small did not mention is that by Monday 1 July G4S also aimed to complete the transfer of all Live Management front line staff to its direct employment.

 

These changes make matters worse for asylum seeker tenants. Subcontractors’ workers have told us privately that the contracts had cut resources for housing management to a level where Mantel and Live Management could simply not afford to employ the skeleton staffs they had.

 

Asylum seekers we have interviewed say they fear G4S and their staff appearing at their doors, managing their housing, because of their experience in the G4S ‘detention estate’. The Yorkshire and North East campaigns on G4S asylum housing began around the simple statement by a Zimbabwean asylum seeker tenant “I do not want a prison guard as my landlord.” Stephen Small connects these fears as the G4S director called to answer to G4S’s role in Jimmy Mubenga’s death in 2010, and now the director of an asylum housing contract bringing misery to many of the 11,000 asylum seeker tenants they “support”.

 

Despite the comprehensive exposure in Parliamentary hearings and reports Small still apparently has friends in high places. Throughout his grilling he repeatedly quoted support from the Home Office for his company’s hold on the contracts. A week before the hearings on 19 June Mark Harper, the Coalition Immigration minister, in a written answer to Labour MP Chris Ruane, a member of the Home Affairs Committee, placed the Coalition government squarely behind G4S:

“G4S performance is satisfactory. Where shortfalls in performance have been identified the performance regime has been applied and improvement plans developed and implemented.”

 

Despite the spin and fabrications from G4S, Serco and their friends in high places, the skirmishes in the Home Affairs committee suggest that this is a battle that can be won.

 

In solidarity with asylum seeker tenants, we can get rid of G4S, Serco and Capita/Clearel, and switch taxpayers’ money for asylum housing back to local authorities, for them to coordinate housing associations and housing companies with decent housing, to provide real housing support for those waiting for their claims to asylum to be determined.

 

 this article originally appeared on the Open Democracy website at ://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-grayson/after-mubenga-unlawful-killing-verdict-could-asylum-seekers-have-worse-landlord

 

March for “Dignity Not Destitution” June 29th

On Saturday 29th June a number of marches and events are planned around England, Wales and Scotland to call for “Dignity Not Destitution” for people seeking asylum as part of Refugee Week.

 

Sheffield march details are:

  • Meet: 11am on Ellesmere Green, at the top of Spital Hill, Sheffield S4
  • Arrive: 12.30pm at Sheffield City Hall for rally and speakers
  • March: at 1pm to Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane Sheffield S2 4QZ via The Moor.

 

Our march is part of a national Day of Action, see the Dignity Not Destitution website. Twitter hashtag is #Dignity2013

 

Why Are We Marching?

 

ñ  We fled persecution, leaving our homes and families seeking  peace and safety. But for many of us, our cases were disbelieved and our appeals for safety rejected by the Home Office.

ñ  We are kicked out of our accommodation and our food vouchers stopped.

ñ  We are not allowed to work

ñ  We can’t access education,

ñ  We cannot receive benefits.

ñ  We cannot go home. We are stuck here like this for years.

ñ  We feel alone, depressed, isolated from society

ñ  We want to contribute, to be part of society and to pay taxes. We are teachers, electricians, artists, business men, doctors, farmers, students, parents, and friends. We are human. How can a human survive like this? Stop scapegoating us!.

 

Our supporters have campaigned to get Sheffield City Council to say the government’s policy on forced destitution is wrong. We are pleased to say that in March they voted unanimously to support us, and condemn this policy. Now, we want to help build a strong national campaign. We want to raise awareness and join together to call for an end to these unjust and inhumane laws. This campaign might not make our own lives better but it will help those in the future who come seeking safety.

Organised by SYMAAG South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group. Supported by City of Sanctuary, ASSIST and others.

 

Other “Dignity Not Destitution” Marches and Events on June 29th

 

Bradford 4-5pm

City Park Bradford

Locally asylum seekers and supporters are gathering in City Park Bradford (exact spot t.b.c) at 4pm: speakers, singing, banners, petition-signing.

 

Leeds 11am –1pm

Leeds Town Hall

We will stand with banners & any asylum seekers/refugees that want to

share their experiences or state their demands are warmly invited to

speak.

http://www.leedsdignityforasylumseekers.wordpress.com/

Cardiff

contact http://wssagwales.org.uk/

 

 

Glasgow 12:30pm

St ENOCH’S SQUARE, GLASGOW

STAND UP FOR DIGNITY

Stop Destitution! Give us the Right to Work! Housing is a Human Right!

Stand Up for the right to Asylum

JUSTICE, FREEDOM & DIGNITY for ALL!

Rally & Music

Supported by the Glasgow Destitution Network

http://unitycentreglasgow.org/?p=784

 

Bristol 11am

Malcolm X Centre, St Pauls

Marching to Castle Park, with banners, masks and a giant scapegoat, stopping on the way to talk about education, health, signing at the police station, the right to work and where we go from here in our campaign.

http://asylumseekersinbristol.blogspot.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/events/159799960872605/

 

Manchester 11.00 – 2.30 (Procession starts at 12noon)

in the grounds of Manchester Cathedral

http://dignitynotdestitution.wordpress.com/

G4S Called to Account Over Asylum Housing Disaster

G4S and Serco executives are having to account for their abuse of asylum seekers (and the tax payer) for their disastrous provision of asylum housing as part of the COMPASS contract. They were summoned to appear before the House of Commons Select Committee on June 25th to “discuss their provision of the COMPASS contract, following criticisms made in both written and oral evidence to this inquiry.” The televised proceedings can be watched again here.

 

Jimmy Mubenga

 

Appearing for G4S is Stephen Small, Managing Director, Immigration & Borders. This is not the first time that Mr Small has been brought before a parliamentary committee about asylum. Weeks after Jimmy Mubenga died while being “escorted” by G4S guards during a forced deportation in October 2010, Mr Small was grilled about his responsibility. On that occasion Mr Small wriggled out of taking any responsibility for Jimmy Mubenga’s death, though a full inquest into G4S’ (and Small’s) responsibility is now underway

 

“Asylum Markets”

 

We are pleased that the efforts of asylum tenants, charities and campaigners, particularly in Yorkshire, have built up enough momentum to cause G4S (and Serco) to be forced to account for their abuse of asylum tenants in the “asylum markets” (as Mr Small explained to SYMAAG). SYMAAG contributed a detailed dossier of evidence to the enquiry.

 

We congratulate those MPs, like Jeremy Corbyn, who have taken a principled stand against G4S’ abuse for profit and applaud those charities who have called for this enquiry. And, most of all, we respect the efforts of asylum tenants who have spoken out despite real fears of victimisation from G4S and UKBA. We believe that whatever the result of the parliamentary enquiry into asylum housing G4S (and Serco and Clearel) should be taken off the COMPASS contract and forced to pay back the money they have taken from local authorities and tax payers.

 

Our campaign against G4S running asylum housing began in February 2011 when a local man, seeking asylum from Zimbabwe explained “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord”. He hasn’t changed his mind.