Archive for June 2006
Daily Mail (London)
SCOTLAND’S biggest city is bracing itself for a fresh influx of asylum seekers under a new deal agreed with the Home Office yesterday. Council chiefs in Glasgow signed a contract that will see thousands more refugees arrive over the next few years. Apart from accommodation, the city will be responsible for providing asylum seekers with transport, food and a course to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings. The contract is for up to 4,200 asylum seekers for whom the council will be responsible but with almost 5,000 currently in the city other organisations are being called in to provide extra accommodation. Both the YMCA and Londonbased housing company Angel Group will be responsible for handling several hundred each. Glasgow is the only Scottish council to accept asylum seekers, but the new contract was only signed after the Scottish Executive agreed to pay Pounds 1.4million to help cover the costs of education and social work. The payment followed complaints from the council that the cash it had been given by the Home Office was not enough to pay asylum seeker-related bills. The new contract replaces the current deal, which has been in place since 2000 but which is due to run out next month. Glasgow City Council equality spokesman Irene Graham welcomed the decision to extend the contract with the Home Office’s National Asylum Seeker Service (NASS). She said: ‘Glasgow has a proud history of giving refuge to those who flee persecution. It is important that asylum seekers who come to the UK receive a humane and warm welcome and that is what we will continue to provide here in Glasgow. ‘Asylum seekers are housed in many communities across Glasgow and they make a positive contribution to the life of the city. The systems we now have in place to support their integration are among the best to be found anywhere. It would have been wrong for the council to walk away from this issue. ‘We will continue to work with NASS and many other agencies in the public and voluntary sectors to ensure that asylum seekers who come to Glasgow have all the support they need while their applications are considered by the Home Office.’ Most of the accommodation for asylum seekers in the city will come from the Glasgow Housing Association, which will provide 1,400 homes. But the deal has also raised the prospect of asylum seekers being given free accommodation in upmarket private housing. Concerns were raised earlier this year that the soaring number of asylum seekers meant the council would run out of houses for them. That led them to plans being drawn up to bring in private housing firms which would receive taxpayers’ cash to house them. At present, asylum seekers are mostly housed in rundown tower blocks, mainly in Sighthill, North Glasgow. But council chiefs are understood to be keen for the new influx to live in a better environment in a bid to help them integrate. Figures released earlier this year showed Scotland was in the grip of a racist backlash against the surging numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants. They revealed an explosion in race-related crimes, with almost 5,000 incidents in the past year. Since 2000, when police forces first began collating statistics on race crime, the number of attacks in Scotland has doubled. Critics claimed that Labour’s mishandling of the asylum system was responsible for fuelling the race-hate epidemic. Glasgow has become the UK’s asylum ‘capital’, with more per head of population than anywhere else in Britain. That has led ministers to consider dispersing asylum seekers to other parts of Scotland in an effort to avoid ‘ghettos’ forming.
The Herald (Glasgow)
GLASGOW will take thousands more asylum seekers after striking a new deal with the Home Office. The city council has signed a new five-year contract to replace an arrangement which is due to expire next week. It will play host to up to 4200 asylum seekers at any one time. Glasgow, the only Scottish authority to accept asylum seekers, has been welcoming them since January 2000, with many staying on in the city after they win leave to remain in the UK. However, the future of its asylum programme had been in doubt because of concerns over unanticipated costs. The council has previously argued that funding from the Home Office’s National Asylum Seeker Service (Nass) was not high enough to cover some of the extra costs incurred, including schooling and translation services. The new contract was signed only after the Scottish Executive agreed to give the council an extra GBP1.4m to help pay education and social work bills. It is understood that Glasgow had asked for GBP2m. Irene Graham, the council’s spokeswoman on equality issues, said: “Glasgow has a proud history of giving refuge to those who are fleeing persecution. It is important that asylum seekers who come to the UK receive a humane and warm welcome and that is what we will continue to provide in Glasgow. “Asylum seekers are housed in many communities across Glasgow and they make a positive contribution to life in the city. The systems we now have in place to support their integration are among the best to be found anywhere. It would have been wrong for the council to walk away from this issue. “I know that we will continue to work in partnership with Nass and many other agencies to ensure that asylum seekers who come to Glasgow have all the support they need while their applications are considered by the Home Office.” City leaders believe asylum seekers – especially those who qualify to stay in Britain as refugees – can make a huge contribution to the economy. Refugees are often highly educated and some of their skills are in demand. The children of asylum families have also helped raise attainment levels in several city schools and set positive examples for Scottish pupils. Early problems with the programme, including tension in some parts of the city prompted by the arrivals of thousands of foreign families, have now been largely ironed out. The new contract is not quite as big as the old one. The council currently supports 4929 asylum seekers, more than the maximum of 4200 stipulated in the new Home Office deal. However, the council is no longer the only body in Glasgow housing asylum seekers. Two others, the YMCA and the Angel Group, a London-based firm, can now do so too, so the council and its partners are in the middle of a complicated transfer of asylum seekers from one body to another.
‘We don’t want to go’; After fleeing violence, a Congolese asylumseeker family are being forced from the community they’ve called home for the past five years. Damien Henderson investigates
The Herald (Glasgow)
A high-rise in the Springburn area of Glasgow to which the family is being sent. Pictures: Colin Mearns/Martin Shields On the second floor of a tower block in Pollokshaws, on the southside of Glasgow, is a three-bedroom f lat which Paul Ndongala and his family have come to call home. Five years after they fled to the UK from the Democratic Republic of Congo, then in the throes of a bloody five-year war with neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda. Scotland has proved a place of much-needed stability. Settling in was not easy – they were one of the first black families to live in the area – but they have eventually come to feel like part of the fabric of the community. The eldest three children – Jonathan, aged 14; Herve, nine, and Blanchard, eight – attend local schools and Ndongala and his wife, Marianne, are wellknown church-goers and volunteers. That sense of belonging got a rude shock last month. On May 18, a letter arrived informing the family that they would have to move to a tower block in Springburn on the other side of the city in less than two weeks. A date had been set for June 1 and a removal team booked to help them move. A separate letter from the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) set out the terms of the move in stark terms. The accommodation was offered on a “nochoice” basis. If it was not taken up, the family’s cash support – a meagre 90-per cent of unemployment benefits – could be discontinued. Page 32 More asylum seekers set for Glasgow; Home Office deal renewed for five more years The disruption has had a telling effect on Ndongala, a broad man with a warm and open smile. His brow furrows as he describes his family’s reaction to the news and he comes close to tears: “We do not want to go to this place, ” he says. “My children are very upset. They do not want to leave their friends at school. The other day Herve came back from school and he was crying. They have told us that once we move they will find us a new school and a new GP but we don’t want to go.” The move is due to the partial privatisation of asylum-seeker accommodation throughout the UK, which has attracted fierce criticism from campaigners, politicians and trade unions. Under a deal struck in February this year by NASS, an executive agency of the Home Office, some 20-per cent of housing for asylum seekers in Glasgow has been transferred to two contractors: the YMCA and the Londonbased Angel Group. The Home Office refused to disclose how many people would be moved, citing “commercial confidentiality” but activists say they have been told that around 1000 people, almost exclusively families, have been affected. Asylum campaigners have told The Herald that forcing families to move after staying in an area for up to five years is causing enormous stress and anxiety to an already vulnerable group. They say it is also undermining efforts to integrate asylum seekers into the wider community, a goal to which the Scottish Executive alone dedicates GBP1m a year. Moreover, there are concerns over the suitability of the housing “offered”. The YMCA manages a 30-story tower block in Springburn in the north of Glasgow, which currently houses around 190 asylum seekers and is expected to accommodate up to 90 more. But unlike the tower blocks in Pollokshaws where they are moving from, the occupants are not allowed telephones in their own flats or washing machines and, until very recently, were required to sign in and out of the building every time they left. At the time of writing, the laundry room on the first f loor of the building had fourwashing machines to serve the entire block, but only one of them was working. The building also had several public telephones but these too were either boarded up or broken, leaving residents to walk to the nearest Post Office to make calls. Shafiq Mohammed, who has worked as the YMCA’s refugee services co-ordinator for the last two years, concedes that there had been problems with the washing machines which he says were due to low water pressure in the building. A review is currently taking place to see if more machines can be added and to decide whether phones can be placed in people’s rooms. He defended the standard of the YMCA accommodation, which has 16 support staff, aiming to give asylum seekers 24-hour assistance. However, Sandra White, the Glasgow SNP MSP, says the accommodation is “housing on the cheap”. “After all the good work that has been done to integrate these people, are we saying we are going to have to start again from scratch?” she asks. “Who’s going to follow through to check that services are there for them? These are very vulnerable people and God knows what’s going on in their minds.” Bill Speirs, general secretary of the Scottish TUC, also warns the move could leave asylum seekers more vulnerable to racist attacks. “There’s no place for ghettos in Scotland, ” he says. “Concentrating them all in one building makes them easy targets. It definitely makes them more vulnerable.” Meanwhile, the Ndongalas have not moved and the Home Office’s threat to cut their benefits appears to have been carried out. Two weeks ago the family’s asylumsupport money was a week late, leaving them to beg and borrow from friends to put food on the table. Last week, they received an emergency payment of half the amount they are usually due. Appeals by friends, community leaders and the local parish priest to allow the family to stay have fallen on deaf ears. Ndongala asks: “We have integrated well here. Now they want to put us in a place where we only live with other Page 33 ‘We don’t want to go’; After fleeing violence, a Congolese asylumseeker family are being forced from the community they’ve called home for the past five years. asylum seekers. How can we integrate then?”