Suddenly, and in the face of big community opposition, an attempt is being made to make Glasgow a hostile environment for migrants.
First, it was exposed that SERCO was planning to put 330 migrants and their families out on the street, changing the locks on the accommodation they are contracted to manage by the Home Office.
SERCO claim they are evicting people who have failed in their asylum claims; but it was revealed that others who are still pursuing appeals are also being thrown out.
Trying to work out why this might be, a long-standing observer of asylum policies and practice in Scotland, said that Home Office funding ends when a person’s claim is finally rejected and SERCO is then obliged to evict them. But evicting others who have not reached the end of the road may be to do with the overall profitability of the contract.
SERCO claimed they are not planning to evict this number immediately but said 330 people were no longer receiving Home Office support. It has now emerged that 100 of these 330 have actually received leave to remain in Scotland. SERCO CEO said the evictions will be limited to 10 a week and will mostly be single men, as if this somehow made it acceptable.
Two of these young men have begun a hunger strike outside the Home Office centre in Brand Street.
There is no possible justification for SERCO’s action, said Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken who has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid warning of a humanitarian crisis and asking him to intervene. Families face being hurled into the street as a result of the marketisation and privatisation of refugee housing.
Hundreds of people turned out at Glasgow’s Buchanan Street Steps to protest against the evictions, and campaigners are now wondering if and how the community as a whole can support people facing destitution. The City Council will set up a task force, but if it is as effective as the one set up to help those driven from their homes by the Art School fire, then the help offered will be very limited.
Then yesterday, 100 police along with a further 100 benefits, tax and immigration officers carried out a raid in Glasgow’s Govanhill area. This terrifying show of force, which one resident called “clear bully boy tactics” led to just 16 arrests and the seizure of one cannabis factory. “They went into just a few properties, with warrants, so why were so many needed? It was certainly creating a hostile environment.”
Govanhill is home to many Roma people and this massive show of force took place just as the community is getting ready for the annual carnival on 18thAugust, which sets out to bring people of all races and religions together.
It is reported that the initiators of the raid were the DWP who told police their opinion that an organised criminal gang was supplying people in Govanhill with fake ID and employment history so they can claim benefits.
A paltry figure of £4m was estimated to have been fraudulently claimed. This is nothing compared to the money the DWP is saving by sanctioning people in poverty in Glasgow, nor to the tax avoidance by corporations based in Glasgow. There will never be a similar raid in the financial district.
In 2011, the Trussell Trust provided 5,726 three-day emergency food supplies to people in Scotland. By 2016/17 this had risen to 145,865 and 43% of those were people forced to seek help because of benefit changes and delays.
Glasgow as a whole is already a pretty hostile environment. The city has 47 of the 100 most deprived areas in the UK. It is a City that needs more enforcement like a hole in the head. What it actually needs is nurture, greater fairness, social solidarity and a concerted effort to adopt policies and practices that help poor people first – which will then by definition help everyone.
The City Council is entirely unable to do this, not least because it has put its assets in the hands of arms-length companies and because it is up to its ears in debt because of commitments made to build infrastructure using the Private Finance Initiative.
The Council should simply announce a small increase in Council Tax for the best off, and declare that it rejects the PFI debts and will review every single one of its contracts looking at value for money, and community impact, local jobs and opportunities. It should bring all services back in house. It could take a leaf out of Preston’s book.
Of course immigration is a UK responsibility and so neither the Council nor the Scottish Government has powers to overrule what the Home Office is doing. But they could do much more, go the extra mile, take responsibility to ensure that these destitute asylum seekers receive assistance and justice, including a roof over their heads and legal help.