Source: Herald Scotland
By Gerry Braiden
Asylum seekers living in Glasgow will start to be moved to other areas of Scotland as early as today, The Herald understands.
The move comes after the city council and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) failed to agree a new contract to house 1300 asylum seekers in the city.
With pressure mounting on the UKBA to reverse its stance, the leaders of all but one of the political groups within Glasgow City Council called on the agency to enter into a “genuine dialogue” over its plans.
The joint statement says: “To now have families, some of whom have been settled in the city for years, threatened with eviction and relocation with minimal notice is unacceptable.”
The statement comes as questions are raised over UKBA’s handling of the matter in the past week, particularly a letter it sent to about 600 households informing the asylum seeker residents that they could be moved with just a few days notice to somewhere else “within the Scotland region”.
The letter provoked fear and alarm among those who received it, but there are also concerns about the impact of the contract cancellation on a number of services.
The council-owned Blindcraft factory, which supplies flats occupied by asylum seekers with furniture, could lose 40 staff and be down about £2m annually as a result of the contract being axed, while there could be a knock-on regarding funding for those teaching English as a second language in Glasgow’s schools.
Teaching union the EIS has also expressed its concerns over the likelihood of children being removed from schools.
Unity, a Glasgow-based support group for asylum seekers and refugees, is staging a protest on Monday in George Square against the termination of the contract, to highlight the potential ramifications for the 1300 people involved.
A spokesman for the group said that while it had had issues with the city council over the years, the authority remained “the best service provider in our experience”.
Meanwhile, senior Scottish LibDems have taken up the matter with immigration minister Damien Green and UKBA.
One senior political source yesterday told The Herald of growing suspicions that the Home Office wants to wind down the overall numbers of asylum seekers in Glasgow because of the public outcry when they are removed.
The source said: “Over the years we’ve had the Dungavel protests, the Ay family and the Glasgow Girls, Precious Mhango and the demonstrations about the dawn raids.
“This doesn’t happen elsewhere in the UK and you’ve got to ask whether it is less hassle for UKBA to have Glasgow’s asylum seekers elsewhere.”
After an emergency meeting yesterday, council leader Gordon Matheson, head of the SNP group James Dornan, the LibDems’ Paul Coleshill, Greens co-convener Danny Alderslowe and independent Colin Deans signed a statement calling for a new approach from UKBA.
Only the council’s sole Tory, David Meikle, refused to sign it.
It states: “While the council acknowledges the right of the UKBA to terminate the contract for accommodation and support to asylum seekers, we condemn the insensitive and thoughtless approach they have taken to the communication of their decision to the individuals and families concerned.
“Glasgow has a proud tradition in supporting asylum seekers. We recognise the traumatic circumstances which have brought them to our city and all of the agencies have worked with community organisations to make Glasgow a safe and welcoming place to be.
“The city council and its partner agencies are committed to working with UKBA to handle the matter in a proper and sensitive manner but we now call on the UK Government to withdraw their previous letter and enter a genuine dialogue with the council.”
MSP Robert Brown, the LibDems’ justice spokesman in Scotland, added: “It is quite unacceptable that people will be told that they have got a few days to pack their bags, abandon their homes and be moved to other parts of the country. We’ve taken the issue up with the Damien Green and the UKBA.”
The UKBA was yesterday unavailable for comment.
More than 120 protesters gathered outside Glasgow City Council's chambers in George Square on Monday 15 November to demonstrate against the move.
Jemima Ojelade, 47, who has four sons, joined the protest. Ms Ojelade, who moved from Nigeria to the UK nine years ago and has lived in Glasgow for more than two years, said: "I received a letter last week saying we would be moved.
"The letter said we would be moved to any region in Scotland. I'm worried because my children were recently moved to a new school as they wanted to pull the flats down where we lived. This was in the October holiday. It's not really good to be moving children in schools all the time."
Arshad Mehmood, a 34-year-old father-of-two from Pakistan who moved to Glasgow in 2007, said: "We moved to this country. We start a new life here. The Home Office should think about our feelings as humans."
Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, a charity supporting and campaigning for the rights of Scotland's migrant communities, said: "For the UKBA to press ahead with mass removal is utterly shameful.
"The irony is that even if the families are moved out, the council services will still be needed by these families, greater strain will be placed on our social services, homelessness services and the health service. So with or without a contract, the council will be forced to cough up."
She continued: "It is disgusting that the coalition government continues to stand silent on the dehumanising and heartbreaking mass removal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society."
Sandra White, SNP MSP for Glasgow, said: "Glasgow is a very welcoming city and I think we are all appalled, hurt and astounded that this has happened without any due consideration to the people who are fleeing persecution and have made their home here."