Sheffield: Hostile Environment or City of Sanctuary?

When is a City of Sanctuary not a City of Sanctuary?
When it colludes with Immigration Compliance and Enforcement bodies by sharing information on its residents who are undocumented migrants.
Sheffield City Council (SCC) has accepted two grants from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG).”This funding has been granted by MCHLG to fund additional staff recruitment to the Private Housing Standards (PHS) team, primarily to focus on intelligence-led work in the East of the city where poor housing conditions are believed to be linked to recent migration in to the area”.
These grants of £192,560 and £385,120 (the latest announced on 14/8/19) are part of the Government’s controversial Controlling Migration Fund (CMF). Although, significantly, SCC’s recent application for CMF funding states that “Officers from the Private Housing Standards (PHS) team undertaking inspection work in the area over the past three years have made several referrals to the UKBA“. A recent Freedom of Information request confirms this.
A report for the SCC Cabinet states “The additional funding would also allow for more coordinated work between PHS officers and partner agencies to address wider issues in the neighbourhoods, with improved information sharing and joint working protocols established.”
Are the Home Office/UKBA are one of the ‘partner agencies’?
In the original bid by SCC for Controlling Migration Funding it’s pointed out by the Private Housing Standards team that many private landlords are NOT carrying out the Right to Rent procedures with tenants. Remember the Right to Rent regulations have been declared discriminatory and are clearly racist in intent and operation. Yet council officers seem to want landlords to operate them.
For us in the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), and many others, this is clear evidence of the Labour Council embracing the Hostile Environment policies of the Coalition and Conservative governments. These actions are not compatible with Sheffield’s status as (the first) City of Sanctuary and are a political choice. At least 11 other Labour Councils have pledged not to share immigration data with the Home Office
Over the past 5 years South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) has constantly researched City Council policies and practices to scrutinise what a City of Sanctuary actually means.
We have found them wanting in how Refugee families with No Recourse to Public Funds are treated – the City Council has housed them in dangerous B&B’s for years. John Grayson and Violet Dickenson investigated this shocking example in 2018.
We have found them wanting in terms of allowing collusion between the South Yorkshire Police and Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) in the city which resulted, in January 2017, in a Romanian couple (both EU citizens, one a Big Issue seller in the city), being forcibly removed by ICE from a temporary homeless peoples’ camp and sent to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. A SYMAAG Freedom of Information Request established that ICE staff were permanently situated in South Yorkshire Police stations to pick up undocumented Sheffield residents arrested for alleged offences.
SYMAAG has constantly asked questions of the Council about allocations of government money under the Controlling Migration Fund (CMF) 2016-2020.Sheffield Council has always denied that they applied for and received part of the Fund’s £40m “Enforcement” programme for action against ‘rogue landlords’ and deportation of undocumented tenants.
Now the Council website indicates otherwise.
So, a simple message to Sheffield City Council:
Act like Sheffield really is a City of Sanctuary
Stop collusion with Immigration Compliance and Enforcement to deport Sheffield residents
Oppose the Hostile (or Compliant) Environment in all your policies
Sources:

“G4S tenants will be dancing in the streets”

After a six year campaign by asylum tenants G4S have lost their contracts to run asylum housing. From September 2019 tenants will not have “a prison guard as a landlord”

The new 10 year £4 billion Asylum Accommodation and Support Contract has been given to Serco, Clearsprings and the Mears Group. We will be working alongside asylum tenants to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect and provided with decent housing.

We will publish a detailed response to the announcement of the new contract soon.

In the meantime listen to John Grayson from SYMAAG interviewed on Sheffield Live on G4S getting dumped from asylum housing contract and our small part in that success here

Protest against Sheffield Council putting migrant children in Dangerous B&B

Despite assurances Sheffield City Council are still putting migrant children in the dangerous and unsuitable Earl Marshall Bed and Breakfast which John Grayson and Violet Dickenson reported on 6 months ago. This is not acceptable behaviour from any local authority. That Sheffield City Council, which prides itself on the being the first City Of Sanctuary, should behave like this is disgraceful. That’s why SYMAAG has called for a protest on Wednesday 5th December 1pm outside the Town Hall, before the full meeting of Sheffield City Council, where we will be asking questions.

Background to recent events: In April and again in September Sheffield councillors Jackie Drayton and Jim Steinke and Chief Council Officers said no more children would be put in the Earl Marshall B&B. SYMAAG has spoken to seven families since dumped in this dangerous and unsuitable accommodation. All are people of colour – new refugee families just after celebrating their leave to remain, sent to a “home” with no safeguarding protection for babies, toddlers and young children. Parents can share one room with four, even five children. In April there were two families who had been there for two years. This has to stop.

Join our protest on 5th December outside Sheffield Town Hall at 1pm and come to the full Council meeting, starting  at 1.45pm with us to ask why a City of Sanctuary is treating refugee families like this

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