Zimbabwe still not safe – Sheffield Protest Against Deportations July 25

End Forced Deportations to Zimbabwe

Demonstrate outside Sheffield Town Hall

Wednesday 25th July 12noon to 1pm

Stop another Windrush Scandal

According to New Zimbabwe.com, British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, in February 2018 told Zimbabwean Deputy President Kembo Mohadi that her government intended to deport 2,500 “illegal Zimbabweans” in that country. The announcement came as Theresa May said that her government was “determined to reduce the number of immigrants coming into the country by thousands”. Very few people have been deported to Zimbabwe over the past ten years.

There are now reports of Zimbabwe Embassy staff going to detention centres to interview any Zimbabwe nationals there to give them travel documents so that they can be forcibly deported. Some people have already been deported to a Zimbabwe where the same regime is in power even though Mugabe has gone. Their lives are in danger.

As Marian Machekanyanga, an exiled trade unionist from Zimbabwe and SYMAAG Executive Committee member, explained to us  “nothing has changed for Zimbabwean people here or at home. Mnangagwa is still ZANU-PF…there are no changes and no democracy”.

Zimbabwe refugees here for years are facing deportation rather than extension to their right to safety here in the UK

Tell Sajid Javid the Home Secretary to stop deporting Zimbabwe refugees. This is Theresa May’s Hostile Environment yet again bringing misery and danger to families seeking protection from persecution and torture in the UK

Tell Sheffield Council: Treat Homeless Asylum Children with Respect! Wed 4 July

A recent investigation by John Grayson and Violet Dickenson of SYMAAG revealed that Sheffield City Council are treating homeless asylum seeking children unlawfully and disrespectfully. These children and families have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and are being placed by the Council for long periods in unsuitable and potentially dangerous Bed and Breakfast accommodation.

Carol from the Earl Marshall hostel explained to us how waiting for toilets and showers were the worst times for the families. She said some of the men “asked us for money and called us racist names. Every time we had to wait, then we had to clean the toilet, so we could use it.”

For 2 years we have tried to get Sheffield City Council – which declared Sheffield the first City of Sanctuary – to stop this practice of housing women and young children routinely and for long periods in shared hostels with vulnerable homeless men

On 7 February 2018, SYMAAG members went along to a Sheffield City Council meeting. We presented a petition, asked questions and stated our demands

1)  To immediately stop placing homeless families in B&B’s

2) To immediately stop placing homeless lone mothers and children (in particular survivors of trafficking and/or domestic violence) in potentially unsafe temporary emergency accommodation with single men.

3)To immediately institute a programme to renovate or replace the council’s existing temporary accommodation for homeless people which council reports have declared ‘not fit for purpose’

Councillor Drayton in the Council meeting and afterwards did not give any undertakings on any of these points and talked of ‘monitoring’ and refused to stop using the Earl Marshall for families.

Now Sheffield City Council has finished the long break for elections, SYMAAG will be back at the Council meeting at Sheffield Town Hall  Wednesday 4 July at 2pm to ask further questions to force the Council to treat homeless asylum children with NRPF just like any other homeless children in Sheffield.

We invite you to come with us. Ask the Council a question from the public gallery and lobby your councillor. We’ll be meeting at The Sanctuary, Chapel Walk at 1pm beforehand.

 

 

Rodents, bedbugs, mould: UK asylum housing is a Hostile Environment

A Manchester asylum hostel run by Britain’s biggest outsourcer Serco is riddled with cockroaches, rodents and bedbugs.

by John Grayson

Mothers with babies in a Manchester hostel run by Serco have shown us their dirty and dangerous living conditions.

Shadow immigration minister and local MP Afzal Khan has told us: “Nobody, let alone families with children, should be forced to live with cockroaches, bed bugs, damp, leaks and mice. Unfortunately we know that this is not an isolated case. Our asylum accommodation system is not fit for purpose.”

Last week I visited the ground floor and basement of the hostel that is home to three mothers and three children. One mother, Carole, showed me the damp basement where she lived with Nathan, her 11 month old son. She showed me water gathered by the dehumidifier that she had bought.

She said Nathan is asthmatic, and showed me bedbug bites on his arms.

“I have them too, Serco said they could not find them, but they did not change the mattress — just put plastic on it.” That looked to me unsafe, and a suffocation risk.

Bed bug infested mattress wrapped in polythene (John Grayson)

Carole showed me a video on her phone of two mice running around her bed in the middle of the night. I could hear her frustrated voice: “I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep.”

An asylum-seeker from West Africa, Carole told me: “I am on medication all the time, but it is the damp and Nathan and his breathing I am really worried about.”

From the bin Carole produced a glue trap with a dead mouse and cockroaches.

She said she feared fire breaking out in the kitchen above her basement room. “If there was a fire in the kitchen I could not get up these stairs with Nathan past the kitchen. I would have to climb up through the window which is below ground and all bars.”

The kitchen ceiling showed evidence of water leakage from the flats above — presenting risks of electrocution and fire. Carole said: “The ceiling leaks when upstairs use the baths and showers. We need buckets.”

Rooms provided to mothers with toddlers had no space for play. Carole poked behind a kitchen unit and showed me a poison box for mice. “Nathan can pick the boxes up and put them in his mouth. He was playing in here, the only place where he can, and hit his head on a door handle.”

Nathan’s bedbug bites (John Grayson)

Carole showed me letters from her doctor, her health visitor, her play scheme organiser, all asking Serco to move her and Nathan. “The man from Serco comes, once or twice a week. He says he reports everything but people above him do nothing.”

Upstairs Pamela, from south Asia, grimly joked about the cockroaches, “I have the really big ones up here,” she says, and it’s true.

“I came here nearly two years ago. Paul my son is nearly two and he was a few months old then. Carole’s baby has spent his whole life down there. I think it is worse for them.”

A squalid rear yard, strewn with refuse is no place to play.

Above the women’s quarters live male asylum seekers. I hadn’t seen a mixed hostel in my six years of working alongside asylum tenants. Pamela said: “The men upstairs were really bad, noisy but there are new ones now.”

Last week I sent a detailed report and photographs to Serco company spokesman Marcus De Ville. He replied: “We are confident that in the vast majority of cases we are providing appropriate housing for asylum seekers but we are not complacent and we always want to look into any issues or concerns that are raised. We are now doing this with this property and I will get back to you in the near future.”

Dead mouse with child’s toy (John Grayson)

I sent the same evidence to local MP and shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan. He replied: “The description of conditions in this house is shocking. Nobody, let alone families with children, should be forced to live with cockroaches, bed bugs, damp, leaks and mice. Unfortunately we know that this is not an isolated case. Our asylum accommodation system is not fit for purpose. It is unacceptable that in 21st century Britain, people fleeing war and persecution are routinely housed in appalling and at times unsafe conditions.”

Serco accommodates nearly 15,000 asylum seekers in more than 5,000 properties across the North West of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. According to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into asylum housing Serco housed 8,342 asylum seekers in the North West of England in September 2016, including 994 in Manchester. This suggests that they manage between 200 and 300 asylum properties in the city. In evidence to the same inquiry Serco revealed its average income per service user in February 2016 was around £300 a month. So, for the three rooms in the Manchester hostel with a mother and child in each Serco received £1800 every month of taxpayers money, £21,600 over twelve months.

Security company G4S and Clearsprings also provide accommodation under the contracts known as COMPASS (Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support).

I’m a housing academic and volunteer working alongside asylum seekers. Over years we have exposed the landlords’ failures and mismanagement. Reporting here on Shine A Light, we’ve exposed health hazardsintimidation, and fire risk.

This work has helped to provoke and inform a National Audit Office Inquiry and Parliamentary scrutiny.

Stairs down to Carole and Nathan’s room (John Grayson)

The National Audit Office in 2014 found that G4S and Serco, were “still failing to meet some of their key performance targets, notably relating to the standards of property and the time taken to acquire properties for asylum seekers.”

Three years later, in January 2017, MPs reported that the contractors were still failing. “Some of the premises used by Providers as temporary accommodation are substandard and unfit to house anyone, let alone people who are vulnerable,” MPs said.

The Home Affairs Committee urged that inspections should be passed to local authorities and should include: “whether an individual’s health or special needs are being met; the quality and quantity of food available; the fabric of the building itself.” And whether are facilities are appropriate for “vulnerable people, including mothers and children and victims of torture and trafficking.”

They warned that people were being moved around the asylum system without their consent, which can “disrupt vital support networks” and “cause emotional distress”. And they said the complaints system wasn’t working — asylum seekers feared complaints would prompt reprisals.

Basement window: Carole and Nathan’s escape route? (John Grayson)

The contractors carried on failing. In November 2017, the Guardian reported charities’ claims that in Greater Manchester, asylum seekers wereforced to live in “squalid, unsafe, slum housing conditions” and the public was largely unaware of the conditions into which “traumatised people are routinely dumped”.

Serco’s origins are in defence and military procurement. Its joint venture with Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering holds the government contract to design, manufacture and maintain the nuclear warheads for Britain’s Trident missiles.

For more than 10 years, Serco has managed Yarl’s Wood detention centre, where guards have sexually assaulted women detainees, guards have stood by as expectant mothers undergo obstetric examinations, and where a case of child sexual abuse went uninvestigated.

Four years ago, an undercover reporter at Channel 4 recorded Serco guards at Yarl’s Wood calling women detainees “animals”, “beasties” and “bitches”. “Headbutt the bitch,” one guard says. “I’d beat her up.”

Serco is tendering for the new asylum housing contracts from 2019 worth a potential £4 billion of taxpayers’ money over seven regional contracts over ten years.

Serco CEO is establishment figure Rupert Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill. In his written evidence to the Home Affairs parliamentary select committee Inquiry into asylum housing in 2016 Soames said: “Our determination to provide a decent and caring level of provision and fulfill our contractual obligations despite massive losses deserves some recognition.”

I am not sure Carole and Pamela would agree.

 


 

 

  • Edited by Clare Sambrook for Shine A Light at openDemocracy. Names have been changed. First published at Open Democracy on 29 May 2018 here

Zimbabwe: “no changes and no democracy”

Why Zimbabwe is still not safe for refugees like Marian Machekanyanga

Marian was forced to leave Zimbabwe in November 2002 as
a result of victimisation and mistreatment. As a member of a workers
committee in a government department in Harare,she led a protest to
the Zimbabwean Parliament against the misdirection of the Government
funds to ZANU-PF. She has spent 16 years trying to secure her safety
by fighting for the right to remain in the UK.

During those 16 years Marian has also continued her fight for the
human rights of others. She is an Executive Committee member of the
South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group and active in
Zimbabwean opposition organisations in the UK, protesting against
ZANU-PF and for the rights of all asylum seekers in the UK, including
Zimbabweans.

Marian on “Don’t Let Them Drown” protest at the Home Office in Sheffield

Like many Zimbabwean political exiles in the UK she was relieved when
Robert Mugabe was forced to resign in November 2017, but wasn’t
positive about his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa. When I asked Marian
she explained “nothing has changed for Zimbabwean people here or at
home. Mnangagwa is still ZANU-PF”. Separated from her family in
Zimbabwe for an unimaginable 16 years, Marian would dearly like to
return to Zimbabwe but the party that victimised her before she came
to the UK are still in power. “The treatment of Joice Mujuru is a
sign there are no changes and no democracy” Marian said. Joice Mujuru
was Vice President of Zimbabwe who left ZANU-PF in 2015 to become an
opposition politician and has faced harassment since.

With elections due later this year there are reports that 5000 troops
have been deployed in rural Zimbabwe and voters threatened with
compulsory use of new biometric voting cards which will identify who
they cast their vote for. Despite these and other repressive measures
directed at the opposition in Zimbabwe the UK government seems
determined to continue the deportation of people seeking asylum to
Zimbabwe. The UK ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Lang, recently told
Zimbabwean Deputy President Kembo Mohad  that the UK wanted to deport
2500 Zimbabweans who were “living illegally in the UK”.

Marian discussing her asylum case with Paul Blomfield MP for Sheffield Central

The Home Office regard Marian as “living illegally”. Despite clear
evidence of the danger to Marian if she returns to any part of
Zimbabwe and the severe risk to her health if she could not get vital
medication there for her diabetic condition, the Home Office rejected
her asylum claim and initial appeal.

Marian clearly feels it is still unsafe for her to return to Zimbabwe
and continues her long battle to be recognised as a refugee and given
leave to remain in the UK. Lots of South Yorkshire people agree with
her too – over 1000 of us have already signed a petition in her
support.

How UK migration rules make children homeless

Councils are forcing children into homelessness and destitution simply because of their parents’ migration status.

 

Alara Bed & Breakfast room shared by Amy’s family of five (John Grayson)

For two years we have been investigating how Sheffield treats refugee families who have no recourse to public funds. Our latest article exposes the dire state of temporary housing for mothers with young children, forced to share hostels with vulnerable homeless men.

Here we provide some context to the situation.

Across the UK councils are forcing children into homelessness and destitution simply because of the migration status of their parents. This problem is compounded by the housing crisis, which is hurting the poorest most.

Sheffield City Council, the scene of our work, placed 43 homeless families with 97 children in bed and breakfast accommodation in the 11 months to 30 November 2017, according to an FOI we submitted. Some of them had been placed in B&Bs more than once, and some for many weeks. Of the 97 children, 40 were under five years old.

In April 2016, we visited a mother and four children under five years (two year old twins, a three year old and a five year old). They’d been housed in the Alara Bed and Breakfast hotel in Hillsborough, Sheffield.

We climbed a steep flight of stairs to be greeted by Amy, with her youngest child in her arms. “This is it,” Amy said, “We stay in here most of the time. The children cannot play here or anywhere inside.”

The council had put them in the Alara, in one room on the first floor, nearly 18 months before. Amy’s social worker had told her that she and her children didn’t qualify for anything better because they have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status, although three of Amy’s four children were British citizens.

Here Amy washes dishes and her children (John Grayson)

Amy told us: “We have breakfast which is OK, but then we have to go to food banks or get cheap takeaways. I cannot cook in here at all.” Amy hoped we might be able to get her moved.

She had been frightened to complain to anyone but her social worker. “They told me I would have to make another claim to stay in the UK in October this year, and I don’t want to be deported,” she said.

Amy showed us the damp and dirty walls near the beds she shared with her children. The rest of the place, carpets, toilets, showers are really nice and clean”.

She was frightened to complain, fearing she would be deported

The room had a small sink that Amy used for washing the children and washing the dishes. The nearest toilets and showers were across the landing of a steep flight of stairs, shared with other residents. This presented a daily hazard for Amy’s toddlers. “I worry every day when I take the children to the toilet. The manager won’t provide any child gates — he says they will stop escape if there is a fire.”

We protested to the council. Sheffield’s Children Young People & Families department (social services) told us that the council’s Private Housing Standards department “had recommended the Alara”.

But after the standards department sent a two-person inspection team to the Alara, social services said: “We consider that the accommodation is not suitable for either family.” That was April.

Unguarded stairs (John Grayson)

We advised Amy and her children not to move to different B&B accommodation, but to hold out for something suitable. The council offered a city centre “family room” in a budget hotel — again just one room. We maintained that the council should provide temporary housing suitable for Amy and her four children.

In May the leader of Sheffield City Council Cllr. Julie Dore intervened, saying we should “assist this family by encouraging them to move to the hotel we have organised for them.”

She wrote to us: “I am very unhappy we now have a family with small children residing somewhere that has been deemed unsafe for them.”

Eventually, faced with potential legal action on the basis of the children’s human rights, the council agreed to offer Amy a standard council house on a temporary basis.

 

A place to call home

Seventy per cent of Sheffield’s homeless people in temporary accommodation are single men or childless couples, that’s almost three times the national average of 26 per cent.

Our investigations suggest that a small but growing number of homeless children in families in Sheffield have no recourse to public funds. This is a growing problem across the UK affecting families in cities like Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham.

In late 2015, Hackney Community Law Centre and Hackney Migrant Centre produced “A place to call home: a report into the standard of housing provided to children in need in London”.

FOI requests revealed that six London local authorities supported 1,570 “Section 17” families or children between them during the last six months of 2014.

In August 2017 The Independent reported that Haringey local authority “was currently supporting 71 households with no recourse to public funds, including 151 children.”

 

Councils can defy the government

There is resistance. In December 2017 the Labour mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson unveiled a £250,000 homeless facility called Labre House in the city centre. In a break with national policy, he said: “The centre will also help failed asylum seekers who the Government has said have ‘no recourse to public funds’.”

Our observations chime with the Hackney findings that: “Most B&B-style accommodation is inappropriate. Not only does it frequently fail to adequately meet the needs of the family but, in some situations, it can pose a positive danger.”

We are campaigning to make sure in Sheffield, the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, the council defends the safety of refugee children, whatever their status.

 


 

All names of refugees and refugee children, and interviewees, have been changed.

Edited by Clare Sambrook & Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Shine A Light. 

 This article was originally published on Open Democracy at https://www.opendemocracy.net/john-grayson-violet-dickenson/children-made-homeless-by-migration-rules on 5 April

Mothers and children unlawfully housed in Sheffield B&Bs for years

Women and young children routinely placed in shared hostels with vulnerable homeless men.

Earl Marshall Guest House (John Grayson)

Mothers with young children have spent months on end in Bed & Breakfast accommodation in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, living alongside vulnerable homeless single men. Women forced to share bathrooms and kitchens with men they don’t know tell us they’ve faced intimidation and racist abuse. They say they fear for themselves and their children.

Councils are obliged by law to avoid placing pregnant women or families with children in B&Bs except as a last resort, and then for no longer than six weeks. But we at South Yorkshire Migration & Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) know of women and children housed unlawfully in potentially dangerous B&B accommodation for months, and some for years.

At a B&B on Grimesthorpe Road, Sheffield, mothers with children have been housed alongside vulnerable homeless single men.

Called Earl Marshall Guest House, the B&B is in Burngreave, to the north of the city, which has housed incoming migrants, workers in the steel industry, over the last sixty years, people from Yemen, Kurdistan, Pakistan. And in recent years from Central and Eastern Europe. The steel industry has almost disappeared and Burngreave, with its streets of redbrick terraced housing, is one of Sheffield’s poorest districts.

We first met Esther at the Earl Marshall with her young daughter one sunny September afternoon in 2017.

Esther’s room (John Grayson)

For two months, mother and daughter, aged six, had shared one small cramped room, with bunkbeds and hardly any storage space. “Come in, there’s not much room in here to sit down,” Esther said. “I have to keep the buggy in here. It’s not safe to leave it by the front door.”

Families with more children had bigger rooms, but hers was normal for a mother and child, Esther said. “I have our food in here, I can’t store it in the kitchen, there are no locked cupboards and about 20 people use that kitchen. There is only one cooker in there.”

Esther, a survivor of trafficking from West Africa, said she didn’t feel safe at the B&B. “I am frightened for my daughter,” she told us. “The man next door is very noisy, bangs on the wall at night — I think he uses drugs in there.”

She said: “The worst thing is having to queue for toilets and showers with the men, it is not right for my little girl.”

Her only income was the £20 a week she received from Sheffield social services for her daughter. “My social worker gives me vouchers for the food bank and she got them to provide a fridge in my room,” she said.

A kitchen for 20 people (John Grayson)

The ‘box room’ (John Grayson)

Esther worried about other children in the house. Were they getting enough to eat? “They don’t serve breakfast unless you ask the woman,” she said. “Then it is never before eight, which means the children here who go to school have to eat cereals and milk bought by parents.”

In a corridor we met an agitated woman dressed only in her nightie, who said excitedly: “I will be leaving soon, I will be moving out.” She opened her door to a small box-room with little natural light on a sunny afternoon, one tiny window obscured by a curtain. She said that’s where she was living.

Other women forced to spend time at the Earl Marshall also feared for their children’s safety.

Carol lived there for a year from February 2015. Like Esther she had survived trafficking from West Africa, had been turned down for asylum and so lost her financial support from the National Asylum Support Service.

“I was sharing a single bed with my daughter Sophie, no money and living with friends,” she told us. “They asked us to leave, and we went to the council as homeless.”

We asked Carol what she felt when she first arrived at the Earl Marshall. “I hated it and did not want to stay,” Carol said, “but Sophie saw the bunk beds, and after months of sharing a small bed with me, thought it was great.”

Carol told us: “It was worse at weekends. There were drunken men outside and inside, amongst the guests of the B&B as well as in our part. An American man who ended up in our part on a very busy weekend told me ‘This place is not safe for the kids. I think it is the cheapest place in Sheffield.’

“On those weekends all the mothers would gather with our children in the biggest of our rooms and stay there all weekend, making sure there was one of us with the children wherever they were.

“While I was at the Earl Marshall there was a Chinese woman with a baby, and a woman from Cameroon with her child. She hated it and went back to Cameroon. Single refugee women came but only stayed one or two nights. There was a man with five children, all in the same room.”

 

“No Recourse to Public Funds”

All three refugee families we spoke to from the Earl Marshall had found themselves labelled “No recourse to public funds”. In a letter to us in May 2016 the leader of Sheffield Council, Cllr. Julie Dore, explained what that means.

“Public funds are defined and include all benefits and homelessness help from the Housing Department. This means that the Local Authority’s Housing department cannot provide accommodation under the housing laws.”

Showers at Earl Marshall 

 

But, she added, “Children’s Social Care may still owe a duty to the children.”

This comes under the Children Act 1989 (Section 17), Children in Need, for whom money that is provided is not considered to be public funds.

Dore went on: “We explore a number of options with such families including enabling them to return to their home country if they wish and it is safe to do so.”

These Sheffield families receive only the equivalent of UK Child Benefit (around £20 for the first child). For the mothers, social workers gave Carol and Esther vouchers to take to the local food bank, and £5 each week to pay their Earl Marshall laundry bills.

“They treat us bad,” said Carol. “Sometimes the bedclothes and washing were not collected on time, I had to change the beds and take the washing myself, it was difficult with a schoolchild to keep her clean. Breakfast was never till eight o’clock, too late for my child to get to school.”

Dinah spent five months in the Earl Marshall with her daughter Adele who was six years old. She told us: “They would only wash bedclothes and school uniform in there, other things I washed by hand.”

Waiting for toilets and showers were the worst times for the families. Carol said some of the men “asked us for money and called us racist names. Every time we had to wait, then we had to clean the toilet, so we could use it.”

Waiting for toilets and showers were the worst times. The men asked for money and called us racist names.

Dinah told us: “The showers were locked from 8pm to 9am. Waiting in the queue we heard screaming and banging doors and a naked man came in and joined the queue. I decided to buy a potty for our room so that we felt safe.”

When she spoke to us a few weeks ago Dinah had been in the UK asylum system since 2001, 17 years. “I tried to become a student, but someone stole my passport and took my money. I was in a bad abusive relationship and ended up in a house rented by my church. They wanted to buy another place and evicted me and Adele, then we ended up in the Earl Marshall.

“Adele had chicken pox when they told us we had to go to the Earl Marshall and I thought she would spread it to the other children. They told me ‘You can either go in there, or we will take Adele into care’.”

Dinah remembered two Chinese women with two children each, girls and boys, in the Earl Marshall. “A student came with her small baby, she decided to leave the country. There was a lady, she was out of her mind, she kept saying, ‘I can hear the voice of my boyfriend’, over and over again.”

 

Direct action

Earl Marshall managers spotted us taking photographs from outside the B&B in September 2017. Esther asked us not to identify her in anything we reported. “I don’t want them to make me homeless again,” she said. And so it was November before we wrote to the council setting out the dangerous situation for children in the B&B.

We demanded that the council immediately rehouse any families with children remaining in the Earl Marshall and declare that it would never again be used as emergency accommodation for children.

The secretary to the leader of the council replied on 22 November 2017.

“I have forwarded on all of your emails regarding Earl Marshall B&B to both Councillors Drayton and McDonald and asked them to contact you, as soon as possible.”

Then…nothing (later they claimed not to have received our email). So, we decided on a more direct approach.

On 7 February 2018, SYMAAG members went along to a Sheffield City Council meeting. We presented a petition, asked questions and stated our demands:

  • End the use of the Earl Marshall guest house for homeless refugee children;
  • Provide equal treatment for homeless refugee children to that given to other homeless children in Sheffield.
  • In response to our testimony about the long periods families spent in B&Bs, Cllr. Jackie Drayton, chair of the Children, Young People and Families committee, said, “These were asylum seeker families who we could not help in other ways because they had no resource to public funds.”
  • Later, on 20 February 2018, we received an email from the chair of housing, Cllr. Jayne Dunn. She admitted the council’s department for children, young people and families (CYPF, more commonly known as social services) had two families accommodated in the Earl Marshall.

She said: “Both families have no recourse to public funds. One family has been there since 9th September 2016, and one family since 28th January 2016, just over 2 years. The families are supported by CYPF. In any case B+B is not a good option for families for long periods, and I have offered to help source alternative accommodation if this is appropriate for both families.”

One councillor later admitted that the B&B was unsuitable for the families

Then Carol, who had asked a question at the council meeting in February, received a reply to our petition from Cllr. Drayton, chair of the CYPF committee who placed the families in the Earl Marshall.

The letter, dated Dated 8 March 2018, contained no apology for the year Carol and Sophie had spent in the Earl Marshall. Cllr. Drayton said that, “Children’s services do not support bed and breakfast accommodation for families and work to prevent this whenever possible.”

Cllr. Jackie Drayton concedes: families have been housed in B&Bs for more than 12 months (letter, 8 March 2018)

The letter admitted “some cases” in bed and breakfast “for over twelve months” were “unacceptable” and a review of the cases was underway. Any families in bed and breakfast for more than six weeks would have reports issued to “monitor” them. There was no commitment to stop using the Earl Marshall. “We will assess the concerns raised about the particular institution identified in the petition.”

Sheffield, City of Sanctuary, and the homeless

Lately, we spoke to Barry, a volunteer in mental health campaigning groups in Sheffield. He told us, “Over the past twenty years I have known of many people when they are discharged from NHS care, and find themselves homeless, who have been put in the Earl Marshall by Social Services.”

They made me live in the same small bedroom with him, for three months.

Mary is an elderly Anglican minister and refugee from Southern Africa, who runs an art and handicraft project for women refugees in Sheffield. She found herself in the Earl Marshall in 2015, with her adult autistic son.

“There was a serious fire in our council house and the Council had to find somewhere for us to live whilst it was repaired,” she told us. “They wanted to place my adult son, who is autistic, in the Earl Marshall. I said he would not cope in there without me. They refused to budge, so I went there with him. They made me live in the same small bedroom with him, for three months.”

 

 

Earl Marshall’s response

We contacted the Earl Marshall on 22 March and asked for a response to the refugee families’ specific allegations and concerns raised in this article.

Nada Mortin, director of Earl Marshall Guest House Ltd, replied on 26 March with the following statement:

Firstly, we refuse to comment on allegations of this nature as a matter of principle. We feel such comments may misrepresent the nature of our work or of the Hostel itself, which seeks to provide quality accommodation to homeless and vulnerable people in the community.

 

We would emphasise and reiterate that at all times we have complied with all regulations and policies issued by Sheffield City Council from time to time together with all regulatory bodies applicable to our sector and at no time have any allegations been received by the Hostel, whether from the council or any resident or former resident, in connection with the operation of the Hostel. Residents have always been provided with the requisite facilities and access to the same at appropriate times.

We contacted Ms Mortin again on 28 March and 4 April, again inviting her response to the families’ particular concerns about breakfast, shower, kitchen and laundry arrangements. We await her reply.

 

 


 

All names of refugees and refugee children, and interviewees, have been changed.

Edited by Clare Sambrook & Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Shine A Light.

This article was published first by Open Democracy at https://www.opendemocracy.net/shinealight/john-grayson-violet-dickenson/mothers-and-children-unlawfully-housed-in-shef

The roots of the Hostile Environment

In December 2013 SYMAAG organised a protest in Sheffield against the 2014 Immigration Act which put into law many of the measures designed to create a “Hostile Environment” for what then Home Secretary Theresa May called “illegal immigrants”

120 people came together to oppose moves to make the Hostile Environment policy law

 

One of SYMAAG’s founding members David Price has this letter published in The Guardian 17 April 2018

Amelia Gentleman’s article (Rudd’s U Turn: At last an end to the staggering heartlessness, 17 April) rightly welcomes the belated government U-turn over the Home Office’s appalling treatment of the Windrush generation. But I doubt if this will mark an end to the Home Office’s “staggering heartlessness”.

In 2012 David Cameron set up the “Hostile Environment Working Group”. Sarah Teather, then a Liberal Democrat minister, was outraged by this title and it was changed. But ministers have continued to use of this kind of language and I fear it has moulded Home Office attitudes. Out of this working group came the Immigration Act 2014, which Labour supported at second reading. This act required all sorts of public and private bodies to bear down on people without appropriate immigration documentation. Those of us who warned that it would have a pernicious effect were ignored.

David Price
Sheffield

Originally published in The Guardian 17/4/18 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/17/amber-rudds-windrush-apology-fails-to-impress

The Hostile Environment policy sees landlords, schools, the NHS, banks and employers as border guards

“We need humanity and accountability” in asylum housing

Asylum tenants organise at Sheffield conference

This was the first national meeting of asylum tenants. At the same time as a new £4 billion 10 year government contract for asylum housing and related services is being tendered and due to start in 2019.

The current contract, called COMPASS, has operated from 2012, run by G4S, Serco and Clearsprings. Since then four separate Parliamentary inquiries have confirmed what asylum tenants have been saying since: that asylum housing during the COMPASS contract has been “unacceptably poor” and “substandard”. The Home Affairs Select Committee report in January 2017 described asylum housing provision as “a disgrace” and called for a complete overhaul of the contract.  The government rejected the findings and recommendations wholesale and claimed that the “the standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012.” We know that G4S are one of the bidders for the new Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts and it’s likely the others will be major outsourcing corporations.

Protesting in Sheffield in 2012 at the start of the COMPASS contract. Photo Sam Musarika

That’s why 64 of us came together in Sheffield on February 24th. We want global serial human rights abusers G4S and Serco to be barred from bidding for the new contract to provide asylum housing. So, asylum tenants, migrant rights campaigners, journalists and academics from Yorkshire, the North East, the Midlands, Manchester, Derbyshire, London and Northern Ireland met in Sheffield’s new refugee centre The Sanctuary.

We were welcomed by Manuchehr, co-chair of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG),  who called for support to the women hunger strikers at Yarls Wood who are also up against Serco, G4S and the Home Office.

Lorna Gledhill from Asylum Matters chaired the meeting and introduced 3 themes that ran through the day:

  • the importance of basing our campaigns on the rights of asylum tenants;
  • the lack of accountability inherent in privatised asylum housing
  • that this Government’s declared aim is to create a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants.

 

First up was Kate Smith from Huddersfield University and Huddersfield Women’s Centre. Kate spoke about the lack of safety, security and privacy for women and children in privatised asylum housing in Kirklees. “It’s a really harmful house. We are living with rats that are dying, dead. Dying in the house” Shahnaz had told her. “I wanted (stair) gates for the baby, waited for 9 months” said Jane. Doors without locks, no hot water for women and young children and the all too familiar “I complained to G4S but they didn’t do anything”. She pointed to the existence of overcrowded and dangerous “mother and baby hostels” and the effect of such conditions on children’s early development. Kate suggested that embedding children’s rights into the running of asylum accommodation was necessary to achieve accountability.

 

Makhosi Sigabade and Philani Dube from the Belfast Housing 4 All campaign explained how “you cannot hold anyone accountable” in Northern Ireland’s asylum housing system. Serco and the Northern Ireland Executive (the devolved government of Northern Ireland) are joint landlords, routinely passing the buck for vital repairs between each other. “Serco don’t provide what they say they do” but “If I make a noise will it prejudice my case?” Philani explained echoing a common fear amongst many asylum tenants all over the UK. And an understandable fear – G4S displayed notices in tenants’ houses threatening to report them to the Home Office if they complained.

Makhosi Sigabade and Philani Dube from the Housing 4 All campaign. Photo Manuchehr

Jalloh Ibrahima from Newcastle’s Migration and Asylum Justice Forum (MAJF) emphasised Philani’s point about the difficulty in speaking out “If you can’t speak good English how can you put the problem forward?” Asylum housing in the North East is run by Jomast ex-G4S subcontractor, infamous for painting asylum seekers’ doors red in an area with high levels of racist attacks.

Jalloh described how MAJF had pressured Newcastle City Council into opposing overcrowding and the practice of forcing asylum tenants to share bedrooms but that Jomast had refused to implement the Council’s decision and had appealed against it.  Overcrowding is endemic in privatised asylum housing since contractors are paid per tenant. “Private companies are always trying to make money out us,” he said. Jalloh was inspired by the success we’ve had in Yorkshire in stopping forced room sharing and invited us all to join MAJF’s protests against Jomast’s policy in the North East in March.

Clare Sambrook gave us an illustrated guide to G4S’ grisly history. Clare is the founder of Shine A Light and dedicated to exposing G4S’ record as a serial abuser of human rights and at the same time a “strategic supplier” to the government. A legal challenge to force the government to designate G4S as a “high risk” supplier has been launched by Bail For Immigration Detainees.

Photo: Manuchehr

Not only did G4S have no experience in housing when they bagged a £620 million share of the COMPASS asylum housing contract in 2012, they were being investigated for the death of Jimmy Mubenga. He died in 2010 while being forcibly restrained by G4S guards on a deportation flight to Angola, telling them “I can’t breathe”. Clare described G4S apparent impunity. Dave Beadnall, a G4S security guard, fatally restrained a 15 year old child in a children’s prison and was then promoted to Health and Safety Manager. She noted the irony of G4S running an employee vetting company.

Clare pointed to the role of investigative journalism in “shining a light” to expose corporate and state injustice. She pointed to John Grayson’s key role in investigating asylum housing (see here and here), forming the basis for a number of parliamentary inquiries and kick-starting other investigative and campaigning journalism into what G4S call their “asylum market”

John – co-chair of SYMAAG – explained how he was inspired by a Zimbabwean asylum seeker who told him in 2012 “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord”. “I don’t just want improvements to asylum housing I want G4S off the contract” he said. He stressed that it was the contracting out of services like the provision of asylum housing, not just G4S, that was the problem. Given the close relationship between government and corporations (here for example) unaccountability and an apparent rotation of corporate contracts was inherent. He echoed Jalloh Ibrahima’s sentiment about the conference saying “we’ve been working at this for 5 years but we’re learning a lot from asylum tenants today”.

Jalloh Ibrahima of Newcastle Migration and Asylum Justice Forum and Bailor Jalloh, Sheffield Live reporter, discover they are from the same country. Photo: Manuchehr

Like most events of this type, the breaks are as important as the speeches and presentations. I could hear animated conversations in many languages between asylum tenants meeting each other or the first time, comparing experiences, sharing ideas. Some of us were interviewed by local TV and radio, some tried on and bought jewellery made and donated by Gogo Manyoni of Hope and Dignity Hearth, others tucked into their dinner. Nobody touched the tomato juice, which I’d bought by mistake, though.

We resumed with a poem about G4S by Jo Thorpe from Nottingham including the line “They’re hard to crack, like a cockroach in a baby’s bottle” (remember this?) We heard from asylum rights advocate Debbie Rea from Leicester about campaigning in the East Midlands (another region with G4S-run asylum housing) and the city’s history of multi-ethnicity and familiarity with new arrivals from around the world.

We called the event an Action Conference, aiming to end the day with a plan on how we can work together for decent asylum housing. So we split into 3 groups to look in detail at how to best use media; about legal challenges to the contracts and how to mobilise our allies.

Apart from sharing contacts of sympathetic journalists and linking on-line campaigning, the media group looked at ways to publicise the toxic brands of G4S, Serco, Clearsprings, Jomast etc. In the North East, the Migration and Asylum Justice Group has demonstrated where Jomast had other business interests telling people about their role in asylum housing.

The legal group looked at gathering evidence to compare the requirements of existing asylum housing contracts with the reality, without which accountability isn’t possible. We also looked at how to support the legal challenge to G4S launched by Bail for Immigration Detainees (here’s one way). We noted the success of local campaigns on housing standards when supported by the threat of legal action.

Action group discussing how to mobilise our allies. Photo: Manuchehr

In the discussion about working with our allies people pointed out the high-profile failures of companies like G4S, Serco and now Carillion to provide the public services they are paid by us all to do. This means we have more potential allies in political parties, trade unions and local authorities. We can also find allies amongst other groups campaigning against the abuses of G4S etc, for example the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

All the groups noted the importance of illustrating the big political issue of how people seeking asylum are treated with personal stories, because the dehumanisation of people is key to the government’s ‘hostile environment’ approach.

The day was best summed up by Marie from Huddersfield: “whoever gets the contract we need humanity and accountability”. Today’s event and the formation of a national network bring us closer to that goal.

by Stuart Crosthwaite, Secretary of South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)

Human Rights and Asylum Housing conference Sheffield February 24

SYMAAG invites you to an action day conference on human rights and asylum housing in Sheffield on Saturday 24th February, 11am – 4pm at The Sanctuary, 37-39 Chapel Walk, Sheffield S1 2PD.

Tenders are already in from the corporations and companies set to exploit the latest (and biggest) contract to be offered in the UK and European asylum markets, housing refugees waiting for the outcomes of asylum claims. G4S has already confirmed its interest.

Asylum housing throughout the UK was outsourced in 2012 by the Home Office with a five year £1.7bn contract given to three international security companies G4S, Serco and the smaller Reliance company. The contracts have been problematic for most asylum tenants (with four critical parliamentary inquiries), and disastrous for many individuals and families.

The 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act stripped asylum tenants of all the rights established in law for council and private tenants. Since 2012 there have been many examples where the legal and human rights of refugee children and disabled refugees have been threatened by conditions in, and management, of asylum accommodation.

Two of the present contractors Serco and G4S have been criticised and sanctioned for their record on human rights in managing contracts in detention centres, and children’s prisons in the UK, and in prisons and detention centres in South Africa, Palestine, and Australia.

Is this record relevant to the award of new contracts for the care of refugees with £4 billion of taxpayers money? With the collapse of Carillion and Capita on the edge, can huge private companies ever be relied on to provide public services?

Come along on 24 February, have your say and decide what actions we can take.

The event will be held at The Sanctuary, Chapel Walk, Sheffield city centre (opposite Crucible Theatre) S1 2PD.

Speakers will include asylum tenants, journalists, housing researchers and academics, and YOU in small group discussions producing plans for action.

This event is free but please let SYMAAG know if intend to come as places are limited, by contacting dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk or texting John Grayson mob 07887 481355

 

G4S subcontractor Jomast painted asylum tenants’ doors red in Middlesborough and Stockton marking them out for attack

BRIEFING: From COMPASS to the £4 billion AASC asylum housing contract

On 18 November the new AASC (Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts) for asylum housing across the UK from September 2019 to September 2029 were opened for tender.The cost to the British tax payer is a staggering £4 billion. Bidders for the contracts were given TWENTY NINE DAYS to the 17 December to register an interest.There were seven contract areas offered (Northern Ireland is the smallest at £50 million, the North West and the South of England the largest with £900 million all over ten years) making it likely that bidders would be limited to corporations and large housing companies operating in asylum markets across the EU: like the present holders of the UK COMPASS contracts:G4S, Serco, and Clearsprings.

There is already confirmation that G4S has put in their tender

There are other indications that the three holders of the contracts, or private contractors like them, may well be the government’s preferred companies for delivery of the new contracts. On the 9 November, nine months on from a highly critical report on the COMPASS contracts by the Home Affairs Select Committee published on 31 January 2017, the government finally gave its response to their findings and recommendations. The government rejected the findings and recommendations wholesale and claimed that the “the standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012.”

Since the present contractors came on board in June 2012, there have been four significant inquiries, featuring asylum housing in Parliament, the Children’s’ Society Parliamentary panel in 2013, a Home Affairs Committee inquiry in 2013, a Public Accounts Committee inquiry in 2014 and the current Home Affairs Committee inquiry.

In 2016 G4S was fined £5.6m for the standard of the housing it provided in 2013/14. Despite all that, regardless of persistently negative media coverage and asylum tenants’ tenacious resistance and solidarity campaigning, still, G4S, Serco and Clearel hold the contract. They were given an extension (and more money) in December 2016 which will take them through to September 2019.

 

Five years of John Grayson’s  research and monitoring of the COMPASS contracts alongside asylum tenants can be found at

https://www.opendemocracy.net/author/john-grayson and at the Institute for Race Relations News Service www.irr.org.uk

 

 

Daisy and the £4 billion Asylum Housing Contracts

As the tendering process for £4 billion worth of contracts over ten years gets under way, asylum campaigner John Grayson examines the market for asylum seekers’ housing in the UK.

© J. Grayson

© J. Grayson

G4S dumps toddler with rare cancer in dirty asylum house with rats in the yard. Can G4S be trusted to be given part of the new £4 billion ten-year contracts for asylum housing across the UK from 2019?

Daisy is two and a half years old and has suffered from a rare skin and lung cancer since she was born in Sheffield. She was improving after chemo, then her family claimed asylum and sought accommodation. The family of six, from North Africa, were dumped in a house near the motorway on the outskirts of Sheffield on 25 October.

Daisy’s father attended a weekly ‘drop in’ for refugees in central Sheffield, on 1 November, bringing a letter to the ASSIST and Red Cross desks from one of the professionals caring for Daisy. She said that Daisy’s breathing had deteriorated as a result of being moved into the house:

Daisy slept in this bedroom © J. Grayson

Daisy slept in this bedroom © J. Grayson

‘Her disease leaves her vulnerable to serious chest infections and wheeze which compromises her breathing … The age and crumbling state of the house, including a damp bathroom and damp in some of the bedrooms, crumbling walls and dirty carpets mean that this is not good for Daisy’s lungs.’

When ASSIST volunteer worker, Catherine, told me about the house I immediately recognised it as the house I had visited in September 2016.

Jean, her husband and three small children, also from North Africa, had been living there then, for six months, from April 2016. Jean had shown me the rat poison boxes in the back yard, and the fence gnawed by rats. ‘My children cannot play here, they are frightened of the rats,’ she said. Along with the rats, I was told about ‘water leaks, unsafe flooring, and damp walls.’

Broken sofa © J. Grayson

Broken sofa © J. Grayson

On 2 November 2017 I went to the house and was welcomed by Paul, Daisy’s father. ‘This place is dirty, it needs repainting. The carpets are dirty, but G4S will not let us replace them with the clean ones we have with us.’ Hazel, Daisy’s mother, showed me the crudely repaired settee in the living room, which G4S had provided. Paul showed me damp and crumbling plaster behind the settee , and damaged and crumbling paintwork on the stairs. There were dirty walls in the bedroom where Daisy slept. In the attic bedroom, where Paul’s sons slept, he opened one of the two unsecured panels in the walls, which led to dusty and dirty attic spaces.’My children say they can hear the rats in the walls. I have certainly seen the rats in the yard; this morning for instance.’

I went out into the yard which I remembered from last September – the family had sent me a video clip showing a rat running across it.

Video Player

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Unsecured wall panels © J. Grayson

Unsecured wall panels © J. Grayson

I have worked alongside refugees, and their families, in G4S asylum housing, over five years, but even I really could not believe that G4S could have put Daisy and her family in that house, knowing the state of the property … and about the rats.

But the evidence was clear; the ‘visitation log’ showed two ‘inspections’, on 23 October and on the morning of 25 October before the family were moved in. There was ‘cleaning’ on 24 October by Globe, the G4S cleaning contractor, and some ‘repairs’.

G4S inspection log © J. Grayson

G4S inspection log © J. Grayson

After I left the house, I rang the G4S manager to protest directly, on behalf of the family. ‘The Home Office checked that property before the family were moved in,’ he claimed. ‘Yes, we know about the rats in the yard, that’s a continuing problem, but there are no rats in the house, John. The place has been redecorated.’

© J. Grayson

© J. Grayson

For the next few days, a coalition comprising the Red Cross, SYMAAG, Sheffield Council, and staff of the local MP Clive Betts, supported the family and bombarded the Home Office and G4S with demands to get the family moved. The family received a letter from G4S on 6 November saying they would be moved on Wednesday 8 November, – but no apology.

From the COMPASS contracts to the £4 billion AASC contracts

Earlier this year the Home Office set up its Asylum Accommodation and Support Transformation (AAST)procurement team. On 26 August a preliminary notice of contracts beyond 2019 was announced which suggested contracts would be offered worth £600 million per annum, and that ‘the duration of the AASC contract will be confirmed in due course.’ On 18 November contracts for asylum housing across the UK from September 2019 to September 2029 were formally opened for tender. The outsourced contracts are worth a staggering £4 billion of British taxpayers’ money. Bidders for the contracts were given just twenty-nine days, to 17 December, to register an interest.

It seems highly likely, even though there are seven contract areas offered (Northern Ireland is the smallest at £50 million, the North West and the South of England the largest with £900 million, all over ten years), that the likely bidders will be limited to corporations and large housing companies operating in asylum markets across the EU, like the present holders of the UK COMPASS contracts: G4S, Serco and Clearsprings.

‘The standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012’

There are other indications that the three holders of the COMPASS contracts, or other private contractors like them, may well be the government’s preferred companies for delivery of the new contracts. On 31 January 2017, the latest UK Home Affairs Select Committee report on Asylum Accommodation provided by G4S, Serco and Clearsprings, was published, which found, ‘vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation … children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of health care for pregnant women … inadequate support for victims of rape and torture.’

On 9 November 2017, nine months on, the government finally gave its response to the committee’s findings and recommendations. The government rejected the findings and recommendations wholesale, and claimed that the ‘the standard of accommodation provided to asylum seekers has improved since 2012.’

A torrent of criticism since 2012

Hundreds of asylum housing tenants have spoken to me and other campaigners about conditions in asylum housing in my pieces for Shine a Light on OpenDemocracy.net and for the IRR’s News Service.

G4S tenants and former tenants in Sheffield worked with film makers Brass Moustache to produce The Asylum Market to highlight alleged intimidation of tenants. G4S stepped in and prevented the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show showing clips of the film on the day the 2017 Home Affairs Committee report was published.

In 2013 the Refugee Council and the Maternity Alliance issued their report, When Maternity Doesn’t Matter: dispersing pregnant women seeking asylum, based on interviews with twenty women many in COMPASS contract housing.

In Scotland, the Scottish Refugee Council published, The Extent and Impact of Asylum Accommodation Problems in Scotland in 2014. In 2016, in Glasgow, in Serco’s COMPASS contract area, Red Cross researchers spoke to pregnant asylum seekers and new mothers in their report A Healthy Start?. They found that:

‘The state of carpets preoccupied several of the women with young babies who were about to crawl and spending quite a lot of time on the floor. Living in a dirty, cramped house meant that many of them were not feeling able to relax and feel at home. Several lived on upper floors, which caused difficulties when trying to carry a baby, a buggy and bags of shopping up several flights of stairs.’

In Northern Ireland in November 2016, Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) published a critical report, Home Sweet Home? on the Serco asylum housing contract.

Times (20 January 2016)

Times (20 January 2016)

The plight of asylum seekers living in substandard accommodation rarely excites national media attention, but on 20 January 2016, there was a front page story in The Timesabout asylum seekers’ front doors being painted red by Jomast Developments, the G4S contractor, in the North East, which was followed up across the national media and provoked questions in Parliament and special hearings of the Home Affairs committee. At one of these hearings on 26 January 2016, Labour MP Chuka Umunna told Stuart Monk, owner of Jomast: ‘You buy up cheap homes in some of the most deprived communities and you’re making money out of housing some of the most vulnerable and poor people, in some of the most deprived and poor places in our country. It looks like you profit from deprivation and people’s need for refuge – which to many people seems to be unseemly and unsavoury.’

From June 2012, when the COMPASS contracts started, to the deliberations of the 2016/2017 Home Affairs inquiry, there were four official inquiries featuring asylum housing in Parliament:

  • The Children’s Society Parliamentary inquiry in 2013, when Sarah Teather MP chair of the inquiry said that asylum seekers ‘are treated as luggage rather than people who deserve some dignity and respect’. In the report, Teather also pointed to examples of ‘abject disregard for basic human dignity demonstrated by housing providers.’
  • Home Affairs committee report from its inquiry, later that year, noted: ‘We were very concerned by the description of the substandard level of housing provided to asylum seekers.’
  • In January 2014 the National Audit Office reported: ‘Both G4S and Serco took on housing stock without inspecting it . . . many of the properties they had taken on did not meet the contractual quality standards.’
  • The Public Accounts Committee followed up in April 2014: ‘The standard of the accommodation provided was often unacceptably poor and the providers failed to improve quality in a timely manner.’ And ‘Contractors have remained slow in providing decent accommodation for a very vulnerable group of people.’

In 2016, G4S was fined £5.6 million for the standard of the asylum housing it provided in 2013/14. G4S paid no UK corporation tax in 2012.asylum-accommodation

On 8 December 2016, the government quietly issued a written ministerial statement confirming that the Home Office had extended the existing COMPASS contracts, and that it was going to pay more — though not how much. ‘I have increased the amount of money that the Home Office pays for the provision of welfare officers and staff property management,’ wrote immigration minister Robert Goodwill.

As for the five years’ torrent of criticism and compelling evidence of rats, cockroaches and bed bugs. Goodwill brushed them all aside with the comment: ‘There has been considerable interest in the accommodation and support that is provided to asylum seekers,’ adding that he had ‘listened carefully’ to concerns.

A global auction for the AASC contracts?

In the international asylum, detention and prisons market, as Donna Red Wing pointed out in 2010, ’every prisoner (is) a profit centre, every immigrant a business opportunity.’

In 2012, in the lead up to the allocation of the COMPASS contracts, there was a competitive online auction, revealed in a High Court judgment here, when Jomast Developments took G4S to court. Regional consortia of local councils were faced with exclusion from the auction because they could not offer to deliver a contract across the UK, and their preliminary bids were too high for the final auction. This time around there will be seven separate regional contracts over ten years but it is highly unlikely public housing bodies will be interested. The possible exception is in Northern Ireland, where the Northern Ireland Housing Executive currently provides COMPASS asylum housing as a subcontractor from Serco.

It may well be that two of the three COMPASS contractors, G4S and Serco, will see themselves as well placed as the existing contractors in wider UK asylum markets, with contracts in linked detention centres (G4S at Brook House and Tinsley House at Gatwick, and Serco running a seven-year contract at the controversial Yarl’s Wood detention centre). Both companies have recruited establishment figures over the past few years. Rupert Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill, is CEO of Serco, one of the corporations providing asylum housing, in June 2015, he told BBC radio that the new outsourcing market: ‘makes Britain now to public service provision what Silicon Valley is to IT.’ In the first three months of 2016, new public sector contracts worth £1.35 billion were announced in the UK, sixty-five per cent of all outsourced contracts in the British economy. Serco has been a military contractor to the UK government. In March 2016 the Serco website proclaimed:

‘From our inception in 1950 to our expanded role today, using unique skills and expertise we provide UK Government with national nuclear security solutions, and we continue to play a vital role in the national interest … we provide and maintain warheads for the Trident system.’

In 2009, John (now Lord) Reid, a former Labour home secretary and defence secretary, while still a serving as an MP, took a £50,000-a-year consultancy role at G4S. G4S board members have included Lord Condon, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Adam Crozier, head of Independent Television (ITV). Current G4S chairman, John Connolly, who was once Britain’s highest paid accountant, and global chairman at Deloitte — also chairs the board at the Great Ormond Street Hospital charity, and was an advisor to Boris Johnson when he was the Mayor of London,.

In any procurement process perhaps the Home Office ought also to consider the fact that both G4S and Serco were caught out ‘overbilling’ the taxpayer under contracts for monitoring offenders — the tagging scandal. Both had charged the Ministry of Justice for applying electronic tags to ex-offenders who were not tagged. Some were in prison. Others were dead. Serco agreed to pay £68.5 million back. G4S offered to pay back £24.1 million but this was rejected by the Ministry of Justice and G4S eventually agreed on nearly £110 million. The Serious Fraud Office has had both companies under criminal investigation since November 2013.

Are other bidders possible?

International asylum markets, since 2012, have become more crowded and a company like the Swiss-based ORS Service company, with asylum camps and accommodation in Switzerland, Austria and Germany, bought in 2013 by Equistone Partners Europe Ltd, an asset management offshoot of Barclay’s bank, would be perfectly capable of bidding for the UK contracts.

In the US the Trump administration has reversed the policy of Obama who slowed down the privatisation of prisons, detention centres and military spending, and market predictions suggest that G4S is set to benefit from Trump’s spending plans. Also in the US the GEO Group, which operates dozens of private prisons and detention centres, is now getting new detention centre contracts. In April 2017, GEO won a $110 million contract to build a 1,000-bed immigration jail in Texas. The Geo Group UK Ltd has also developed asylum markets in the UK with detention centre contracts at Harmondsworth, and Dungavel in Scotland. The group also has a tie-up with UK company Amey, owned by Spanish corporation Ferrovial. Ferrovial also bought UK company Enterprise in 2013, a company with a history of outsourcing and social housing partnership contracts with over sixty local authorities, and integrated it into Amey. Amey currently operates a twenty-five year ‘Streets Ahead’ highways contract in Sheffield. The GEOAmey partnership company has UK government contracts for prisoner and youth offender transport and court cell suites, transporting 10,500 prisoners a year with 2,500 staff and 400 vehicles. It is perhaps not impossible that GEO/Ferrovial might be interested in a £4-billion, ten-year Home Office asylum housing and transport contract.

Campaigners will continue monitoring the tendering process and to try to ensure that asylum tenants are offered accommodation in future contracts of a ‘decent homes’ standard. This was the standard the Home Office included in the COMPASS contracts – but never enforced.

RELATED LINKS

South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)

IRR News: ‘I killed three … maybe four rats in my kitchen this summer’

IRR News: The shame of asylum housing of child refugees in the UK

IRR News: The Corporate Greed of Strangers

IRR News: G4S and housing abuse of asylum seekers – the truth emerges

IRR News: G4S, Jomast Stockton hostel and the mother-and-baby-market

This article was first published by the Institute of Race Relations on November 30th http://www.irr.org.uk/news/daisy-and-the-4-billion-asylum-housing-contracts/