G4S Break Asylum Housing Contract: Investigate G4S!

 

Once again, private security company G4S, has failed to meet its obligations to fulfill a contract paid for by public money. This time it’s the COMPASS contract to re-house people seeking asylum in Yorkshire and Humberside. Despite a contract extension until November 12th hundreds of asylum seekers in our region face a further agonising wait until a G4S van turns up with instructions to move up to 120 miles away to properties often unfit to live in.

 

In their rush to meet contractual deadlines G4S and their sub-contractors have:

  • Housed women and young children in “hostel accommodation” in Stockton-on-Tees described as “cell-like” by the women, run by Jomast, a sub-contracting company owned by a multi-millionaire
  • Moved families with children during term-time (despite assurances from UKBA that it wouldn’t), requiring a damaging change of school by children who need security and stability, not uncertainty and disruption
  • Moved families far away from their community, legal and medical support structures. Dozens of families have been evicted from their South Yorkshire homes and sent to Teeside, despite UKBA’s assurances to the contrary
  • Evicted a pregnant woman in Rotherham on the day she was to have an induced birth. Sub-contractors Target Housing were concerned that they wouldn’t be paid unless the woman was moved that day
  • Evicted single tenants and replaced them with families or groups, maximising profit: the old Rachmanite trick of “winkling”.
  • Placed people in areas where racist attacks are commonplace, failing to notify the local police or social services of the existence and whereabouts of vulnerable people
  • Moved people to unsuitable and sub-standard accommodation: a disabled Iraqi woman in Sheffield was told she had to use an upstairs toilet in her new ‘home’ despite explaining, in advance, that her disability made this impossible.

 

Resistance

There has been resistance: women from the “cell-like” Stockton hostel have called for its closure and recently gave evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry about the degrading conditions there. Many people have refused to sign agreements to accept unsuitable new housing and worked with campaigners and legal representatives to demand decent housing. Complaints have been lodged about male housing staff harrassing women asylum seekers in their own homes and one G4S sub-contractor, United Property Management, was dumped after they tried to force a woman and her baby to live in unhealthy and insanitary conditions. Some people have even preferred to be homeless than be forced to live in areas where racist attacks occur daily.

 

National Attention

SYMAAG is pleased to see that this issue is now receiving national attention with detailed coverage in the Independent newspaper and from respected social housing organisations like Inside Housing and 24 Dash. There’s been public criticism of the G4S/COMPASS contract from local authorities, who were undercut by G4S in the bidding process and are now (incredibly) blamed by G4S for the company’s failings.

 

With widespread evidence of contractual failure, even the Labour Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant was pushed to comment: “The Home Secretary clearly has some serious questions to answer and should investigate this shambles as a matter of urgency.”

 

 

“I Don’t Want a Prison Guard as My Landlord”

But for asylum seekers and campaigners the fact that G4S are clearly a “shambles” isn’t the main question. Why was a security company with no housing experience awarded a housing contract? Why was a company facing multiple complaints and investigations regarding abuse of asylum seekers in detention and during forced deportations even considered as suitable? Why didn’t UKBA listen when asylum seekers told them “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord” ? What controls and penalties exist to hold G4S to account: not just for their incompetence but for their attitude and record towards asylum seekers? As ‘Ruth’, seeking asylum from Kenya, told a reporter “These companies just want to make profits. But we are human beings.”

When the 12th November contractual deadline passed: according to an Inside Housing report, “G4S referred all press enquiries on the matter to the UKBA” and “The UKBA declined to say what, if any, sanctions G4S might face”. UKBA have now extended G4S’ deadline to house all asylum seekers in Yorkshire and Humberside by a further 4 weeks. As G4S and their sub-contractors rush to try to meet the latest deadline, we can expect more attempts to dump human beings into inhuman living conditions, more excuses from G4S while UKBA look the other way and more resistance to private companies trying to profit from human vulnerability.

G4S’ Handling of Asylum Housing Should Be Investigated:

Take Action: contact your MP and ask them to demand an investigation into the UKBA/G4S handling of the asylum housing contract.

You can find contact details of your MP here

A template letter is here for you to download MP letter template – Investigate G4S

When SYMAAG met Nick

Just before the last general election SYMAAG sent an “Asylum Election Pledge” letter to all candidates in South Yorkshire. The letter was backed by 30 refugee community organisations, campaign groups, faith groups and trade union branches. Many candidates replied to say they agreed with 6 key points which, if implemented, would go some way to showing respect for the rights of people seeking asylum in the UK. One of them was Nick Clegg, elected as MP for Sheffield Hallam, and now Deputy Prime Minister.

 

Nick Clegg’s stated support for key asylum rights began earlier: In July 2008 at public meeting in Sheffield, over 200 people heard him declare his support for asylum seekers’ right to work and for the ending of the detention of asylum-seeking children.

 

Clegg: “The asylum system is uniquely unfair” Sheffield Town Hall, 2008

 

 In 2012 there’s no right to work for asylum seekers and child detention continues despite Clegg’s incredible claim that the Coalition Government has ended it. But Nick Clegg, a patron of local asylum-support charity ASSIST, continues to argue that he and the Liberal Democrats are for asylum and migrant rights. So, on 16th November 2012, representatives from various Sheffield-based asylum-rights groups met the Deputy Prime Minister and “put our concerns” to him. This was the third such meeting: reports and assessments of the others can be found here and here

 

 

Report from Meeting with Nick Clegg, Sheffield 16th November 2012

 

On 16 November, representatives of SYMAAG, together with representatives of other asylum organisations in Sheffield, ASSIST, City ofSanctuary Sheffield, Northern Refugee Centre and Sheffield CDAS, met Nick Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam. It was the third such meeting since  the formation in 2010 of the Coalition Government in which he is Deputy Prime Minister.

 

The team from the asylum organisations  was Richard Chessum for ASSIST, Sam Musarika for Sheffield Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers (CDAS),  Mike Reynolds for City of Sanctuary Sheffield, Jan Thompson for Northern Refugee Centre (NRC) and John Grayson and David Price for SYMAAG. It was a short meeting but covered a lot of ground.

 

David Price began by remarking that, as they had said at previous meetings, they did not feel that the asylum system had fundamentally changed from what it was like before the last General Election – the ‘culture of disbelief’ was still in evidence.

 

G4S and Asylum Housing. John Grayson spoke about the effect of G4S taking over asylum housing in Yorkshire and the North East – people being moved into awful premises, Angel Lodge being reopened as initial accommodation, moves  into areas where asylum seekers suffered abuse from the far right, the shocking hostel for mothers and children in Stockton on Tees (subject of an inquiry led by Sarah Teather MP the following week). G4S were behind with the contract – 300 people had yet to be moved out of Council accommodation in Yorkshire. SYMAAG was drawing together a case to put to the Chief Inspector of Immigration and Asylum in the hope of a thorough inspection. Various points were discussed:

  • How did moves to the North East come about?  Mainly at this stage from the fact that G4S held both the contract for initial accommodation and for longer term accommodation.  
  • What scrutiny did UKBA give to homes into which people were to be moved? Not much.
  • What was the previous quality of housing? Councils had on the whole ensured observance of minimum standards.

 

Deportation to dangerous countries. Mike Reynolds drew attention to various recent cases, referring particularly to the Justice First report on deportations to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in which out of 17 cases 13 were abused on return. He called for the monitoring of returns and said that there were moves in the voluntary sector  to develop a national monitoring network initially concerned with DRC, Uganda and Afghanistan.

 

Family Migration. David Price said that SYMAAG had held a meeting at which great concern was expressed about the new family migration rules introduced in July. He suggested that it was highly discriminatory against poor people and poor regions such as South Yorkshire to require an income of £18,600 to bring a spouse into the country (and more for children).  

Nick Clegg said that, but for the Liberal Democrats, the limit might have been much higher. But he was less sympathetic with SYMAAG’s arguments here than on asylum issues where the UK had entered into international obligations.  Every country had to have rules to control immigration. David Price pointed out that both Yemenis and Pakistanis in Sheffield considered the new rules damaging to their communities. Councillor Maroof’ had put a motion on this to Sheffield Council which had been accepted. There were disturbing individual cases. Nick Clegg said he thought it worthwhile to look at the option of regional differentiation of the income threshold.  Richard Chessum, referring to a particular case, urged that when asylum seekers were given leave to stay they should be allowed to bring in close family members.

 

Young asylum seekers. Jan Thompson  expressed concern about the way in which judgements about the age of young asylum seekers were handled and referred to one case where the authorities had been slow to recognise that a young Afghan had learning difficulties.

Nick Clegg undertook to investigate what monitoring the UKBA had in place to check on different local authorities and their policies on assessing the ages of young asylum seekers.

 

Legacy Cases. Richard Chessum said that there were tens of thousands of cases that had been unresolved for years – the situation was very stressful for those involved who could not work or get on with their lives. UKBA tended to dismiss fresh claims as not sufficiently different to previous claims to justify pursuing them – thus leaving people in limbo.

 

Clegg summed up by saying he would follow up G4S (sub-standard housing, Angel Lodge etc), post-return monitoring, possible regional differentiation of income requirements for family migration, age assessments and fresh claims in legacy cases.

 

We will be watching carefully (but not waiting) for any progress…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campaigning Against the New Family Migration Rules

“This Approach Puts a Price on Love”

 

 

On 25 September 2012, at a well attended public meeting organised by SYMAAG, the following resolution was passed unanimously:

 

‘This meeting  deplores the Home Office’s new family migration rules which came into force on 9 July 2012.  We believe that these rules will prevent many thousands of people from exercising their right to a family life in the UK. The rules discriminate against people on low incomes and as a result will have a disproportionate impact on areas like South Yorkshire where wages are relatively low. We call upon the Home Secretary to abandon these unfair and divisive rules.’

 

Among the many restrictions imposed by these regulations is a new income requirement of £18,600 for people wishing to sponsor a partner or spouse to come to the UK and an additional £2,400 for each child. People who attended the meeting pointed out how discriminatory these provisions were in relation to the incomes received by many people in South Yorkshire.

 

 

“A Qualified Right”

 

It was also noted with surprise that the House of Commons apparently did not query these new regulations and instead on 19 June approved the following motion which was proposed by Theresa May:

 

‘That this House supports the Government in recognising that the right to respect for family or private life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is a qualified right and agrees that the conditions for migrants to enter or remain in the UK on the basis of their family or private life should be those contained in the Immigration Rules.’

 

 

SYMAAG subsequently wrote to all Sheffield MPs expressing its strong concern about these new rules and expressing astonishment at the apparent claim in Theresa May’s motion  that  immigration rules like those set out above do not cut across people’s right to family life. SYMAAG raised the issue at a meeting with Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister on 16/11/12: see a report of the meeting here.

 

 

Sheffield City Council Opposes Family Migration Rule Changes

 

Sheffield’s Councillor Mahommed Marouf, who attended the SYMAAG meeting, subsequently submitted a motion to Sheffield City Council about these new rules and this was approved by the Council on 7 November 2012. The motion declared among other things that the new rules will ‘ be hugely detrimental to the multicultural vitality of Sheffield and the UK, and believes that changes to the minimum income threshold, right of appeal and student immigration would cause damage to the culture and economy of our City’.

 

Since SYMAAG’s meeting in September the campaign against the rule changes has grown. The Independent newspaper recently reported  the rule changes and resistance to them, including some personal and emotional testimonies about the effects of the changes (see, for example the comment from Andy Russell after the article).

 

 

As a result of concerns about the effects of the rule changes, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration has begun an inquiry and is inviting evidence. You can have your say by contacting the inquiry via the APPG Migration website or send evidence direct to them at  info@appgmigration.org.uk (the deadline for submissions is 31/1/13).  For more information see the Migrant Rights Network website.

 

 

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Report from SYMAAG’s meeting on 25/9/12 about Family Migration Rule Changes

 

The first speaker was Juan Camilo Cook, Advocacy Support Officer of the Migrant Rights Network (MRN). He said that the new family migration rules were a consequence of the Conservative Party’s election promise to bring down net migration to 250,000. 47% of the UK population had incomes below that now required in order to bring a spouse into the country. The proportion was even more inYorkshire. It was not generally recognised that the new rules would affect long standing UK citizens who wished to bring in a foreign spouse. Ethnic minority communities needed to consider the implications of these rules for their own community’s welfare. In July MRN had organised large demonstrations against the new rules outside the Home Office and outside Parliament, but awareness was limited and there was a need for active campaigning, particularly to MPs. MRN provided the secretariat to the All Party Group on Migration and there was a proposal for an enquiry into the impact of these rules.

 

The second speaker was Saleh Alnoud, a  solicitor and part of  the local Yemeni community.  He pointed out that Yemenis had originally been encouraged to come to Sheffield to work in the local steel industry. The situation in Yemen was now highly unstable and it would be very difficult forSheffield based Yemenis to settle there. Since 2007, the UK embassy in Yemen had closed. The country lacked facilities for language tests. He regarded the new rules as draconian and urged the Yemeni community to campaign on these issues.

 

The third speaker was Gwyneth Lonergan, a researcher and member of SYMAAG Executive. She acknowledged that there was a separate process for family reunion for people with refugee status  – but only as long as they have refugee status. Once they have citizenship, former refugees must follow the same procedure as everyone else. Moreover, there remained issues around the weakening of the right to family life and the potential deportation of people who have served over 12 months in prison.  Also, asylum-seekers who are parents of British children (or children who have been in the UK so long that they are automatically allowed to stay) do not necessarily get to stay in the UK, so families can be divided.  There have been stories of the government targeting families with children who have been in Britain almost 7 years for deportation.

 

 

What’s Changed? UKBA’s announcement of 9 July 2012 on family migration rules

 

A number of changes to the Immigration Rules come into effect on 9 July 2012. These changes will affect non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) nationals applying to enter or remain in the UK under the family migration route.

 

These changes will define the basis on which a person can enter or remain in the UK on the basis of their family or private life, unifying consideration under the rules and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

If you already have leave to enter or remain in the UK, on the basis of being the spouse or partner of a settled person, you will need to meet the rules which were in force before 9 July 2012 if you apply for settlement.

 

The changes include:

 

  • introducing a new minimum income threshold of £18,600 for sponsoring the settlement in the UK of a spouse or partner, or fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationality, with a higher threshold for any children also sponsored; £22,400 for one child and an additional £2,400 for each further child;
  • publishing, in casework guidance, a list of factors associated with genuine and non-genuine relationships, to help UK Border Agency caseworkers to focus on these issues;
  • extending the minimum probationary period for settlement for non-EEA spouses and partners from two years to five years, to test the genuineness of the relationship;
  • abolishing immediate settlement for the migrant spouses and partner where a couple have been living together overseas for at least 4 years, and requiring them to complete a 5 year probationary period;
  • from October 2013, requiring all applicants for settlement to pass the Life in the UK Test and present an English language speaking and listening qualification at B1 level or above of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages unless they are exempt; and
  • allowing adult and elderly dependants to settle in the UK only where they can demonstrate that, as a result of age, illness or disability, they require a level of long-term personal care that can only be provided by a relative in the UK, and requiring them to apply from overseas rather than switch in the UK from another category, for example as a visitor.

 

The changes to the Immigration Rules were announced by the Government on 11 June 2012 and they form part of the Government’s programme of reform of the immigration routes. The changes are being introduced following wide consultation and expert advice from the Migration Advisory Committee.

Source: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsarticles/2012/june/13-family-migration

 

For more information about the new family migration rules, please also see http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/blog/2012/06/family-migration-new-rules-announced

 

See also BritCits, a website dedicated to the rights of international families http://www.britcits.com/

 

 

 

November 8th National Day of Action – Stop Barnardo’s Detaining Children

Thursday 8th November – Any Time – Any Barnardo’s Shop/Office
As Medical Justice put it: “they ruined the campaign to end the detention of children, which campaigners felt could be achievable as the government had already promised it.”
Along with notorious security firm G4S, children’s charity Barnardo’s runs the Cedars family detention centre in Sussex. This is where several asylum seeker families from Glasgow have been detained since it opened last year.
UNITY and other campaiginers will be leafleting outside the Barnardo’s shops in Glasgow at 250 Great Western Road G4 9EJ  and at 116 Dumbarton Road G11 6NY from 11.00am on Thursday 8th November.
Following a series of documented assaults on migrant families held in Cedars, the appalling treatment of the Saleh family, and the damning HM Inspector of Prison‘s report last month.

Anti-detention campaigners are calling on all concerned groups and individuals to join up in an intensive day of action to ratchet up the campaign against Barnardo’s involvement in child detention.

 

A 27 weeks pregnant woman who was brutally restrained by guards at Cedars was living in Glasgow before being detained with her husband and small son in a raid on her home in April this year which Unity publicised.
Barnardo’s does not really have the welfare of children at heart. If it did, it would have pulled out of Cedars as soon as its own red lines’ had begun to be breached. The reality is that these conditions relating to the use of force against minors and the length of detention at Cedars have been repeatedly broken, and Barnardo’s continued involvement in Cedars is only serving to legitimise the continued use of child detention.
As Medical Justice put it: “they ruined the campaign to end the detention of children, which campaigners felt could be achievable as the government had already promised it.”
Our aim is to put enough pressure on Barnardo’s to pull out of Cedars. We believe this will strip away any legitimacy for the continued use of child detention and take us closer to stopping it for real. We see the fight against child detention as one part of the struggle against the brutal system of immigration detention as a whole.
Suggestions For Action:
There are various simple ways through which you can take action and help stop child detention: if you can’t pay Barnardo’s a visit on the day, you can still phone, tweet or email them and their supporters. Do something!
1. Phone blockade. Call Barnardo’s and ask why they are continuing to work at Cedars despite the repeated breaches of their own Red lines. Remember, senior staff at Barnardo’s never have to hear from the families held at and deported from Cedars. Your phone calls and messages are a chance to put across some hard truths about Cedars.
– Barnardo’s head office: 0208 550 8822
– Press office:  020 8498 7555 (24 hours) – Media and communications managers:  0208 498 7685 or 0113 393 3245 – Corporate partnerships/fundraising: 0208 498 7138
– Commissioning their services as consultants: 0208 498 7734
– Supporter care/telephone donation line: 0800 008 7005
If you would like to protect your anonymity (if you don’t want a call back from Barnardo’s, for example), dial 141 before entering the number.
2. Tweet. If you have a Twitter account, why not tweet these celebrity endorsers of Barnardo’s (see Barnardo’s website for details of their support for the charity). Ask them, politely, if they are aware of Barnardo’s role in Cedars, and whether they might reconsider supporting them.
Actor and author Stephen Fry: @stephenfry
Actress Fay Ripley: @FayRipley Actress Michelle Collins: @missmcollins Actress Amanda Holden: @Amanda_Holden Taekwondo Olympic bronze medallist Lutalo Muhammad: @LutaloMuhammad Rugby player James Haskell: @jameshaskell
3. Leaflet Barnardo’s charity shops. Most Barnardo’s shop volunteers and customers probably don’t know what Barnardo’s is involved with. You can let them know about Cedars and what goes on inside.
UNITY and other campaiginers will be leafletting outside the Barnardos shops in Glasgow at 250 Great Western Road and at 116 Dumbarton Road from 11.00am.
4. Pay a visit to Barnardo’s offices. For a list of all Barnardo’s addresses, see this page.
from

The UNITY Centre 30 Ibrox Street Glasgow G51 1AQ 0141 427 7992 www.unitycentreglasgow.org