Hundreds of refugees live under threat of eviction in Glasgow | Scotland | Al Jazeera

Hundreds of refugees live under threat of eviction in Glasgow

Private contractor Serco reportedly locking asylum seekers out of accommodation in Scottish city, angering campaigners.

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    Afghan refugee Rahman Sahah, right, and Mirwais Ahmadzai went on hunger strike last year in Glasgow after they faced eviction by social housing provider Serco [File: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]
    Afghan refugee Rahman Sahah, right, and Mirwais Ahmadzai went on hunger strike last year in Glasgow after they faced eviction by social housing provider Serco [File: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

    Glasgow, Scotland - Signs reading People Make Glasgow may dominate Scotland's largest metropolis, but not every visitor has enjoyed the hospitality of what has often been called a friendly city.

    Some 300 asylum seekers who live in apartments - often several people to a room - in some of the most deprived areas of Glasgow are living under the threat of eviction, having been told by the Home Office that they cannot stay in the United Kingdom.

    Mourad Khelfane, an Algerian engineer, is among them. He arrived in Britain in 2015 and has spent the better part of two years in the Scottish city.

    Months ago, the Home Office declined his application for leave to remain, a move that deprived him of state support. 

    He soon received a letter warning he would be evicted as part of a lock-changing programme, in which fixtures on doors are being changed to lock asylum seekers out of their accommodation.

    These efforts have, according to reports, already made three people homeless.

    The letter to Khelfane was signed by Serco, a private company contracted by the British government to provide social housing in Scotland.

    "I don't feel good and I can't even sleep," said the 29-year-old, who still lives at his accommodation but worries he too will soon lose his home.

    These are people from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They are living in limbo and are not allowed to work or do anything and have to rely on charity and handouts.

    Mohammad Asif, member of the Scottish Afghan community

    The recently restarted eviction process was first put into practice last year by Serco, but stalled because of widespread condemnation.

    "I'm scared because there is a lot of stress and pressure - pressure from Algeria and pressure from here."

    Khelfane left Algeria nearly five years ago after his support for Berber independence, which he says put his life in danger. 

    He has family in Algeria but said talking to them by telephone has become draining as his future hangs in the balance.

    Recently, 50 Serco evictions were temporarily suspended by the Glasgow Sheriff Court. 

    On August 28, the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) will be granted the right to intervene in a legal appeal against the evictions, citing "serious human rights implications".

    Politicians campaign for asylum seekers

    For its part, Serco told Al Jazeera that it had become financially untenable to continue to house asylum seekers whose claims were declined by the Home Office.

    In a statement, a spokesperson said it has become "clear that our approach was not sustainable, as the numbers of people refusing to move on, and the length of time they were staying, was increasing rapidly".

    But in a city renowned for community spirit and diversity, campaigners against the evictions are keeping up the pressure.

    "These are people from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq," said Mohammad Asif, a member of the Scottish Afghan community, who settled in Glasgow after fleeing the Taliban in 2000. "They are living in limbo and are not allowed to work or do anything and have to rely on charity and handouts."

    When I see my name on a letter that comes through the door my heart beats faster than before. If I go back to Algeria I don't know what will happen to me.

    Mourad Khelfane, Algerian asylum seeker in Glasgow

    In July last year, when Serco first announced its eviction policy, hundreds of demonstrators protested in Glasgow, with one Scottish MP saying: "Serco has picked on the wrong city, and they have picked on the wrong people."

    The Scottish government, led by the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) in Edinburgh, has laid Serco's actions at the door of the UK's Home Office - but is virtually powerless to intervene as immigration policy remains devolved to the British government at Westminster. 

    Aileen Campbell, the Scottish government's communities secretary, wrote to the Home Office in June: "The conclusion of this sorry situation must not be that people are made destitute and homeless.

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    "The Home Office has to live up to its responsibilities. It is not acceptable to leave the asylum accommodation provider to deal with the inevitable results of a flawed system, and to wash your hands of the consequences."

    Paul Sweeney, Labour Party MP for Glasgow North East, told Al Jazeera that the issue has come back into focus because Serco's contract was not renewed. 

    From September, Mears Group has the contract - but activists are concerned that many of the 300 or so people will fall through the cracks.

    "Essentially, Serco wishes to clear out all the properties and hand them back to their respective landlords before that date," Sweeney said, calling the policy "callous without any regard for human welfare".

    Most affected people are still pursuing legal advice, including fresh asylum appeals, so "it's not quite the end of the road that Serco and the Home Office are [today] illustrating", said Sweeney.

    Fears of homelessness

    At the time of writing, Khelfane was trying to temporarily halt the threat of eviction. His lawyer is preparing another asylum claim - but this will not be heard until the end of the year.

    Like others in his position, Khelfane lives hand-to-mouth as he looks to reinstate state support.

    He fears he will be made homeless in Glasgow, where there is already a high concentration of rough sleepers.

    "Glasgow has, at any one point, about 4,500 asylum seekers being supported by the Home Office," Graham O'Neill, policy manager at the Scottish Refugee Council, told Al Jazeera. 

    "Then you have a wider group of people who have been made destitute from the UK asylum system who are just trying to survive," he said, blaming the Home Office for risking the possibility that vulnerable people could be made "immediately street homeless with no court oversight".

    Back in his two-room flat, which he shares with another Algerian asylum seeker, Khelfane said the uncertainty is mentally exhausting.

    His one saving grace is the camaraderie offered by asylum seeker friends who, hailing from countries including Iran, Egypt and Libya, have shared experiences.

    As the August 28 court case - known as Ali v Serco and the Home Secretary - looms, in which the SHRC has been granted the right to intervene, Khelfane lives in fear of receiving another eviction notice - or Home Office letter.

    "When I see my name on a letter that comes through the door my heart beats faster than before," he said. "If I go back to Algeria I don't know what will happen to me."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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