“United By Love, Divided By Theresa May” public meeting. Report and campaign proposals to follow soon…

Public meeting to discuss what the new family migration rules mean and how we oppose them.

When: Tuesday 25th September 7pm

Where: Quaker Meeting House, 10 James Street, Sheffield S1 2EW

Speakers from Migrant Rights Network, SYMAAG and from the Sheffield Yemeni Community Association.

 

This meeting is being held because major changes in family immigration rules came intoforce on 9 July . These rules mean that

Only people who earn at least £18,600 per year can bring their spouses to join them in the UK – and this increases to £22,400 for a child, and £2,400 for each additional child

Spouses of UK citizens must now wait 5 years before they can apply for indefinite leave to remain – and during this time, they can’t receive benefits

Spouses of UK citizens will have to pass an intermediate English test AND the Life in the UK test in order to settle in the UK

It is much easier to deport the parent of a British child, even if this means a permanent separation

for more information see Migrants Rights Network and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants websites

You can download a flyer for the meeting here dividedbyteresamayflyer (2)

Asylum Housing Campaign Guide: Challenging Instructions to Move Home – UPDATED

It’s everyone’s right to live in decent, suitable housing, regardless of their immigration status or where they were born.

Many people seeking asylum in South Yorkshire will be asked to move house, sometimes to a different area, this year. This is largely a result of G4S and their sub-contractors taking over the UK Border Agency ‘COMPASS’ contract to house asylum seekers in our region.

 This briefing is produced by SYMAAG to help you support people who have been asked to move and want to challenge this, for a variety of reasons.

Our experience is that assertive and well-informed advocacy can bring results.

 

Note: UKBA statement on transport of people’s belongings issued 1st August 2012. We have been finding cases where people have been told they cannot transport more than 2 bags of their belongings when being moved. In one case this led to vital equipment for a baby being left behind. G4S, Live Management, Cascade etc take note!

The UPDATED SYMAAG housing campaign guide is available to download here

 

We hope this guide will prove useful. We welcome your views and experience in using it so that we can fine tune the details. Though this guide contains contact information specific to South Yorkshire we hope that it can be adapted for use around Yorkshire, Humberside and the Midlands region (where G4S have the COMPASS contract) and around the UK (where Serco and Reliance Security are paid public money to house asylum seekers).

 

You might also find it useful to look at Monitoring G4S and the new asylum housing landlords which you can download here.

 

 

 

UKBA: “No evidence that returnees to DRC are at risk”

Latest: “No reliable evidence..that a returnee has experienced harm or ill-treatment after being returned to the DRC from the UK” – UK Government.

When MP Tom Blenkinsop asked this question in Parliament he received the above answer. Is the UK Government unaware of the many reports of ill-treatment following forced deportations to DRC?

Democratic Republic of Congo

Tom Blenkinsop: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to monitor the human rights and safety of failed asylum seekers returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [118889]

Mr Swire: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to monitor the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We are aware of reports of allegations that failed asylum seekers from the DRC have been subject to mistreatment on return, but the FCO and the Home office have found no reliable evidence to substantiate these allegations. Should the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or UKBA receive any specific allegations that a returnee has experienced harm or ill-treatment after being returned to the DRC from the UK, these allegations would be investigated in partnership with UKBA.

7 Sep 2012 : Column 465W

 

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120907/text/120907w0001.htm#12090719000011

 

 

Latest news: UKBA claim there is “no evidence to substantiate the allegations that returnees to the DRC are at risk” (UKBA Chief Executive Rob Whiteman in a letter to Paul Blomfield MP 31/7/12.) See Returns to DRC letter from Whiteman to Paul Blomfield MP, Sheffield Central

This claim that there is “no evidence” that people deported to the DRC are at risk will come as a surprise to most Congolese people who have been deported to the DRC as it will to the authors of the “Unsafe Return” report which gave detailed evidence of the persecution which followed their forced return.

                                                  **************************************

At the SYMAAG AGM on May 1st Catherine Ramos from the Justice First group summarised her report “Unsafe Return”. The report documented the abuses experienced by Congolese people during and after their forced deportation to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from the UK.

 

Now Catherine has inspired a number of MPs to put forward a parliamentary motion opposing further deportations to the DRC on the basis of the evidence in the “Unsafe Return” report.

 

Catherine says “Please contact your MP urgently asking them to sign this Early Day Motion (EDM).  Often MPs are not aware of EDMs, perhaps they could be asked to ensure their colleagues know of this one.” Many MPs, both Labour and Liberal Democrat have told us that they support asylum rights. Contact your MP and ask them to stick to their pledge. You can find their contact details here.

 

We successfully stopped Djoly’s deportation to the DRC in 2011

 

This attempt to stop future deportations to the DRC comes after a campaign to stop a deportation charter flight to a number of African countries. Following intensive work between Detention Action and Duncan Lewis solicitors, at least 7 people from DR Congo were taken off the multi-detstination charter flight which departed 5 July due to last minute injunctions. The judge who granted the injunctions commented that because the Congolese ambassador had recently said at a meeting in parliament that people who were sent back to DRC should be punished, returns should be halted until this has been investigated.

G4S Asylum Housing: Lowering Standards, Demolishing Accountability

Note: UKBA statement on transport of people’s belongings issued 1st August 2012. We have been finding cases where people have been told they cannot transport more than 2 bags of their belongings when being moved. In one case this has led to vital equipment for a baby being left behind. G4S, Live Management, Cascade etc take note!

When G4S won the COMPASS contract to house asylum seekers in Yorkshire, Humberside and the Midlands, SYMAAG argued that this would lead to a lowering of housing standards and of accountability. SYMAAG’s John Grayson has found plenty evidence of both.

Demonstrating in February against the G4S-led privatisation of asylum housing

 

Monitoring G4S and the new asylum housing landlords : the new delivery model and a Sheffield case.

 

Information and campaigning experience from SYMAAG

August 19th 2012

 

 

Chaos and confusion still dominates the ‘transition’ to the new G4S contracts

 

The ‘new’ delivery model

 

A)Information gleaned from meetings and correspondence suggests (and at this stage only suggests) that the new contracts include inferior ‘space’ standards in accommodation. Examples of these are :-

 

1)  Lone women with children can be housed together with other lone women with children. At least in council direct, or contracted accommodation, under the present Target contracts, they are (we believe) allocated independent household accommodation.

This ‘hostel’ view of the housing needs of lone women and children could be extremely damaging, and stressful, where different languages, nationalities and religious practices are involved. It surely is the case that there is evidence of the effects on the wellbeing of children exposed to the stress and distress of mothers of the asylum process. In hostel conditions; all the children will be exposed to all the distress of other mothers and children.

It would be useful if any campaigners know of any examples of shared accommodation being offered and whether this was already a feature of the existing contracts.

 

2) A relatively large number of young children can be accommodated in one bedroom with parents in another bedroom in a two bedroomed terrace.

 

A recent case of four children between 6 months and seven years who were threatened with a move to a two bedroomed house, with their parents, was described by one worker as ‘probably just within the UKBA space standards’.

 

 

B)  The new delivery model entails an even more complicated chain of contractors undermining standards and dramatically reducing accountability.

 

In a recentBarnsleycase a landlord contracted by UPM under the Target contracts had provided flats for asylum seeker families. The flats were spacious and of reasonable quality but none of the families had been supplied with washing machines (a UKBA contract requirement). After campaigners raised the issue the landlord within a few days provided a washing machine to one of the families who had been in their flat without one since their arrival in December 2011. He had previously suggested September as the earliest date for it when Live Management took over the property from UPM.

 

TheBarnsleylandlord also claimed that his flats were subcontracted from UPM / Live Management, with a three months notice clause, so that he could ‘get rid’ of ‘unsatisfactory asylum seeker tenants’.

 

Thus at least inBarnsleythere are FOUR  tiers of subcontracting for privatised asylum housing and services under the G4S contracts, building in permanent problems in ensuring decent accommodation for asylum seekers, and permanent uncertainty about being constantly moved. These are :

 

UKBA

G4S

Live Management

Small private landlords with three months notice clauses

 

A Sheffield case from last week 10th to 18th August 2012

 

Transition chaos threatens children’s wellbeing

 

ASheffieldcase last week exposed major failings in the way G4S and the private landlords (in this case Live Management) are approaching COMPASS Transition moves of asylum seeker families with children.

 

The family with four children from 6 months to seven years were given two weeks notice to move to another property on 6th August. The family had been moved from the South coast only on June 7th this year, still under the Target contracts, to a poor quality three bedroomed terrace house. The house was extremely damp and filthy with dirty carpets and mattresses and dangerous electrical wiring, and even  the family’s UKBA case worker in the South intervened to get a few improvements.

 

The parents spent months cleaning and making the house habitable – but major problems remain – here is a quote from an e-mail on 18th August

 

I hope they come and change the carpets and do all other work on the property, there are slug trails on the carpets and there is also something that keeps stinging you from the carpet as well, do not know what it is

 

This family were told they were to be moved to another terraced property by G4S.The father went to look at the outside of the property with an overgrown and rubbish strewn back yard. Neighbours said it had been empty for a long time and had only two bedrooms. The family feared an exact repeat of their appalling housing experience of the past three months. They had, after touring local schools, found a school for their two school age children for September, three miles away from their house, and feared the move would put the school places in jeopardy.

 

They appealed to UKBA and G4S who rejected their appeal, and were told that the property was a four bedroomed property and would be thoroughly cleaned by Live Management for their move.

The family contacted SYMAAG on August 10th by e-mail. SYMAAG raised the issues about the move with G4S, Live Management and the Council. Even on Friday 17th August, with the move scheduled for the 20th G4S was saying that the new address was a four bedroomed property ‘according to Live Management’.

 

A SYMAAG volunteer had seen the property on Wednesday the 16th and confirmed that it was in poor condition externally and certainly looked like a two bedroom terrace. These facts were confirmed by an internet property search where the property was described as having two bedrooms and in   the same street :

 

Some of these properties are relatively old, as at least 10 of them were built 112 years ago in 1900. The average value of the properties ……..is £53,220, which makes it one of the least expensive places to live in … Sheffield

(from www.mouseprice.com )

 

When Live Management were contacted inLeicesterearly on the 17th they said their ‘area manager ‘ would be urgently contacted. Later that morning all the parties involved – the UKBA, G4S and Live Management – confirmed with the family that the move had been cancelled – and urgent replacement carpets and improvements would be made to their existing accommodation.

 

Some lessons for the notoG4S campaign from the Sheffield case

 

We already know that G4S and their subcontractors can simply not find PRS (Private Rented Sector) accommodation in West andSouth Yorkshireto place families moved from council housing and council contracted housing. All dispersals are now to the North East via Clare House inHuddersfield. The latest information suggests that single people may be moved under the COMPASS contracts to Halifax (Calderdale), as well as the North East. All ‘social cohesion’ requirements on concentration of accommodation and risks of racial harassment and hate crime seem to have been ignored.

Barnsleyasylum team, whose contract runs out on the 12th November, are now suggesting moves with children of school age children may well be postponed to the October half term holidays.

 

This desperate search for PRS accommodation means some appalling properties are being brought into service for the contracts.

 

The G4S ‘help line’ number was used by SYMAAG. The response was very professional and friendly. But it emerged that G4S was simply passing on totally inaccurate information from its private subcontractors totally unchecked by G4S.

 

It also emerged that an appeal to UKBA and G4S, as per the ‘rights’ given to asylum seekers, were dismissed out of hand, without any check whatsoever of the claim of Live Management to have provided a four bedroomed property in good condition.

 

The Sheffield case also demonstrates the total inaccuracy of the claim in the Stakeholders’ FAQ’s that UKBA is involved and fully informed of private contractors actions and the dire effects they are having on the well being of children and families. The FAQ’s stated:

 

26 What involvement will UKBA have with relocations?

UKBA will be working with current accommodation providers to identify any special requirements that service users may have and will be sharing this information with new providers so that the most appropriate accommodation can be provided.  UKBA will oversee the current providers’ Exit Plans and new providers’ Transition Plans to ensure that the provision of services is seamless during the transition period.

 

 

As the campaign has argued previously there are NO PROCEDURES OR ‘PROPER CONSIDERATION’ GIVEN  ‘TO IDENTIFY ANY SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS OF SERVICE USERS’ (ie  ASYLUM SEEKERS AND THEIR CHILDREN), PRIOR TO MOVES CARRIED OUT BY UKBA OR G4S UNDER COMPASS TRANSITION. The Sheffield case is further evidence of this.

 

 

The Sheffield case also casts doubt on whether the UKBA is actually involved in ensuring contract compliance On 1st August Anita Bell UKBA Project Manager for COMPASS Transition stated

UKBA are working closely with G4S to ensure properties utilised for transition purposes are contractually compliant and will take appropriate steps to ensure any properties not meeting the required standard are either brought up to standard within the required timeframe or taken off line.

We are working closely with G4S to ensure that the majority of people will continue living in their current properties.  Where people do need to move, proper consideration will be given to any special requirements to ensure minimum disruption.

 

The Sheffield case suggests that this is simply not true

SYMAAG who have said all along that the ‘appeal’ procedure is inadequate are advising asylum seekers to challenge appeals decisions and seek legal action via SYMAAG with PIL (Public Interest Lawyers).See SYMAAG advice leaflet (attached)

 

The threat of legal moves on Friday morning the 17th with both G4S and Live Management seemed to resolve the matter of the move incredibly quickly !!

The condition of the family’s existing accommodation is still a major concern with four young children living there.

 

G4S in the “Asylum Market”

At a G4S-requested meeting with SYMAAG back in February 2012, their representatives explained that G4S’ “primary concern” was to make money for their shareholders in what they called “the asylum market”. It’s 6 months into the UKBA COMPASS contract which saw £210 million of public money go to G4S to run asylum housing in Yorkshire and the Midlands. SYMAAG’s John Grayson looks at how, after their Olympics fiasco, G4S’ plans in the “asylum market” are starting to fall apart.

 

This article was originally published here on the Our Kingdom/Open Democracy website

 

Saying No to G4S and No to Serco in Glasgow June 16th

Back in June, when G4S was looking forward to making a big impression as lead security contractor to the London Olympics, the company signed off a less glamorous but more profitable piece of business – managing housing for thousands of asylum seekers in the north ofEngland. The seven-year £211m contract with the UK Border Agency’s commercial arm COMPASS was especially welcome to G4S, which had lost a deportation escort contract with the UK Border Agency, after the death of Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010.

But the contract has not been plain sailing for the security giant, who have been harried by campaigners across Yorkshire working with asylum rights groups, outraged that a prison guard and immigration detention centre company can privatise the housing of around 1000 asylum seekers presently housed and supported by local councils.

Two groups — South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) and Why Refugee Women? — in May and June criticised  the chosen partner of G4S, private housing company UPM (United Property Management), for forcibly moving a mother and sick baby a hundred miles from Bradford to Doncaster. The UPM flat in Doncaster was condemned by the UKBA itself, but the mother and baby had to endure six weeks there before being rescued by the local children’s services department in Doncaster. UPM was dropped from the G4S contract.

On June 18 a rather rattled G4S announced through the UKBA that it was finally able to take on the asylum housing contract and would have four totally new housing companies as its partners: Cascade, Live Management, Mantel, and a charitable housing association, Target HA, based in Sheffield. Cascade did have some form in asylum housing, but apparently only briefly subcontracting for UPM and Kirklees council. Live Management, registered as a private company only since January 2012, had no form at all. Mantel, part of a commercial property company, was to play no part in the first stages of the contract. Only Target HA emerged as a housing provider with a history of local authority contracts for housing vulnerable people – in its case ex-offenders.

 

Target Housing as a fig leaf for G4S

For more than fifty years Yorkshirecouncils had provided housing for refugees. Now that was being handed over to the world’s biggest surveillance and detention company, with a well regarded local charity acting as front man and figleaf. Just as children’s charity Barnado’s rents its reputation to G4S and the Border Agency at the Cedars family detention centre, providing cover for the continued detention of children, Target Housing was to give a credible face to G4S, as it moved from its profitable asylum markets into the expanding markets for private capital in social housing.

It was a good choice; the CEO of Target was a Chilean refugee, Gino Toro, with personal experience of working for refugee housing associations. In early summer 2011 G4S had organised a competitive bidding process for voluntary sector housing providers. Target, like most voluntary organisations, and many specialist housing associations, had been badly hit by cuts in public expenditure, and a resulting drying up of contracts. In 2011 they had a bad year, they told the Charity Commission:

‘Given the economic climate and funding cuts one of our objectives was to avoid any compulsary (sic) staff redundancies’ (1)

Gino Toro says he won a sub contract from G4S in 2011 to house around 250 asylum seekers, in family groups in Sheffield,HullandDerby. Target, according to Moro, underbid its rivals to win the contract estimated at £2.5 million. Their present total annual turnover is about £2 million, so the contract was important for Target’s survival.

So Target are now players in a game where privatisation means cutting staff costs and reducing service to ensure profits for lead organisation G4S. Target’s unqualified ‘Team Leader’ for their new asylum contract, will be paid the equivalent of £8 per hour gross, roughly what G4S casual employees recruited as guards for the Olympics were paid. Slimmed down staffing will mean vulnerable asylum seeker families will not get the support the councils have offered them.

The G4S assumption that buying a ‘social housing’ provider would scale down opposition in Sheffieldtotally backfired. Gino Moro was well known in the Chilean refugee community in Sheffield – a community still based on memories of the politics of the Allende years in Chile, and still active in asylum rights campaigning. The Chilean community website invited comments on the Target contract and started a campaign, with SYMAAG, to get Target to withdraw from the G4S contract here.

 

G4S sanitises its reputation and wins over the charities

The Target experience demonstrates the way in which G4S can be sanitised, losing its reputation in the ‘tainted trade’ of private security, and accepted as a credible ‘partner’ in providing housing for vulnerable tenants like asylum seekers, and perhaps become a major player in the social housing market (2).

Gino Toro defended working with G4S because he said other well known associations with refugee housing experience ‘like Metropolitan’ (Housing Partnership) were also involved in releasing refugee housing for the G4S contract. Metropolitan, with 80,000 tenants and clients, is the largestUKregeneration and ‘social business’ housing association. Its origins lie in the Metropolitan Coloured Peoples Housing Association of 1957 which housed Jamaican and West Indian immigrants. Metropolitan has in recent years taken over Safe Haven, previously involved in asylum housing inYorkshire, and the Refugee Housing Association, and still runs the Sheffield Station Foyer for refugees that was founded in 2005. The chair of Metropolitan is Barbara Roche a former Labour immigration minister.

In their efforts to extend their ‘asylum markets’ and ‘detention estates’ into asylum housing, all the private security companies involved in the £620 million contracts — G4S, Serco and Reliance — set out to encourage voluntary organisations, and charitable housing associations with experience in refugee and asylum housing and services, into partnerships as subcontractors. None of the security companies favoured by the Home Office had any previous experience in the field of housing – they needed to absorb and build in this experience, and credibility, to the contract bids. Reliance, the smallest of the security companies, privately owned by Brian Kingham, a Tory party donor since 2001, simply formed a joint venture, Clearel Ltd, with private company Clearsprings who had held asylum housing contracts with the Home Office since 2000. Clearel have the contract forLondon, the South West andWales(3).

G4S set about its lobbying and PR project by recruiting Rebecca Woodhouse as Senior Bid Manager for G4S Security Services in February 2011. Between 2006 and 2010 Woodhouse had been Business Initiatives Officer for the Metropolitan Support Trust. Previously she had been a support manager for the Refugee Housing Association (Metropolitan Housing Trust) from 2004 to 2006.

InYorkshireand the North East, G4S brought in housing consultant, Andrew Gray, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, to set up its asylum housing sub contractors. Gray was well known in the field of social housing, and added housing expertise, and mainstream respectability, to the G4S contract bid. As the £120 million contract unfolded, G4S then recruited Duncan Wells as its Social Cohesion manager. Wells was the chief executive of RETAS, aLeedsbased refugee organisation with an established reputation and strong links into the voluntary and charitable asylum support networks. Tiffy Allen, the national convenor of the extensive City of Sanctuary (CoS) movement, is a former colleague of Wells at RETAS, and, according to campaigners, is currently trying to get City of Sanctuary groups to support Wells to set up G4S consultation forums for asylum support groups.

It is perhaps worth noting that Sheffield City of Sanctuary, which started the national City of Sanctuary movement in 2007, was the organisation which actually instigated the campaign in January 2012 against G4S taking over asylum housing in South Yorkshire, by calling on SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group) to lead a coalition of charities into a campaign and a protest demonstration.

This careful public relations and recruitment strategy by G4S, and its tireless efforts to network and appear as a mainstream private corporation simply pursuing contracts for outsourcing asylum housing and services, gradually neutralised any active opposition. A Report sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and Metropolitan, in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Housing entitled ‘Housing and Migration: UK Guide to issues and solutions’, published in 2012, in the middle of the contract furore on G4S, is totally uncritical of SERCO, G4S and Reliance. The Report, written by John Perry, simply states:

“In 2012 a new challenge is to forge partnerships between the private companies that will provide asylum accommodation, local services, and migrant support organisations . . . it is going to be vital to encourage the companies to take a strategic view, recognise the ‘civic’ role they need to fulfil and contribute to successful integration.’ (p.14)

 

The Yorkshire G4S contract unravels

The campaign success in removing UPM from the G4S contract brought chaos and indecision to G4S and the UKBA in Yorkshire – not unlike the ‘shambles’ of the G4S Olympics contract. UKBA announced that G4S had removed Gray from contract supervision; as they euphemistically put it he was given a ‘different role’.

Despite all their undertakings to keep asylum seekers and families in the same areas where councils have housed them, G4S and the UKBA are now simply tearing up agreements. On June 13 an official UKBA statement was issued saying

“There is no intention during transition to re-house individuals currently residing in Yorkshire & Humberside to the North East.”

On 24 June a family was forcibly moved from Sheffield toStockton, a hundred miles away, and other single asylum seekers have been moved, or threatened with moves, to Stockton or Middlesborough. Barnsley asylum seeker families have been threatened with moves 120 miles away toNewcastle.

 

G4S desperation and ‘reverse privatisation’

G4S is becoming so desperate that it is, remarkably, trying a form of ‘reverse privatisation’ by paying local authorities, and housing associations, like InCommunities in Bradford, to allow them to take over and manage asylum accommodation with sitting asylum seeker tenants from previous local council contracts. This is because G4S and their private contractors cannot find any local private rented sector accommodation to put the families in, when they have to leave local authority housing. Campaigners in Kirklees (Huddersfield) say the council there has turned down at least two offers from G4S.

Target Housing, the only social housing provider willing, so far, to openly partner G4S in Yorkshire, is now reeling from exposure in the national housing press, and the local media inSouth Yorkshire. Demand for them to withdraw from the contract is gathering momentum. The trustees are now being lobbied, leaflets are being prepared and actions scheduled.

With the G4S shambles in the Olympics being reflected in chaos in the asylum housing contracts, the G4S hold on theYorkshireand North East contract is uncertain. Campaigners are calling for a rapid return to contracts held directly with the local councils throughout Yorkshire, with no G4S involvement; contracts grounded in public service values, welcoming asylum seekers, instead of the profit-oriented values of an international security company exploiting its ‘asylum markets’ with the tacit support of the social and refugee housing establishment.

 

Notes & references

(1) TARGET HOUSING LIMITED charity number 1017841 SummaryInformation Return 2011 to Charity Commission

(2) Angelica Thumala, Benjamin Goold and Ian Loader ‘A tainted trade? Moral ambivalence and legitimation work in the private security industry’  British Journal of Sociology 2011 vol 62 issue 2 pp283-303

(3) GMB (General Municipal and Boilermakers Union) ‘Posh Dosh for the Posh Boys: the Sunday Times Rich List and how they support the Tory Party’ May 2012

 

 

If you want to get involved in the campaign against the privatisation of asylum housing, you can subscribe to the regional information list by contacting the campaign at notog4s@gmail.com and via the No to G4S blogspot at http://notog4s.blogspot.co.uk/