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‘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

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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?”

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Written by Concerned

June 27, 2006 at 4:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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