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Crunch talks offer housing lifeline to asylum seekers

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BYLINE: By STEWART PATERSON Political correspondent

TALKS took place today as around 1000 asylum seekers waited to find out if they will be moved from their homes.

Last week the Evening Times revealed notices had dropped through letter boxes in Glasgow telling asylum seekers to be ready to move at as little as three days  notice.

The shock announcement followed the  ending of a contract to house asylum seekers in a row over costs between Glasgow City Council and the UK Border Agency.

Home Office and council officials met today to discuss how the support services provided by the council can still be delivered now the contract has ended.

There are fears for job losses within the council s asylum support services and at Blindcraft, which supplies furniture to those given temporary accommodation in the city.

The council provides help and advice on a range of issues including health and education.

The council wanted to increase the bill, while the UKBA is looking to reduce costs, with fewer asylum seekers being sent to the city.

Officials are hopeful that most of those who received the letter will be able to stay in their current homes and it is now looking unlikely there will be a mass exodus from Glasgow.

It is hoped that other housing providers, namely YPeople (formerly Glasgow YMCA) and private firm Angel Group Ltd will take over agreements to lease homes from housing associations, including GHA, to avoid large scale disruption.

It is understood the YMCA could have spare capacity to house many more, but have yet to be formally approached.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said they will seek to co-operate with UKBA to ensure services are transferred.

It is hoped today s meeting will give more clarity on how asylum services will be delivered in the future.

The meeting comes 24 hours after protesters took to the streets of Glasgow to demonstrate against the changes.

Protests took place outside the City Chambers yesterday by people concerned about the future of housing and support service jobs.

Protester Chris Dempster, 25, a charity worker from Ibrox, said:  It is ridiculous to get only one weeks  notice.

 I m here to show  support for the council supporting housing   people see these as their homes and don t want Angel housing or YMCA   they want to stay with the council.

 They have communities and know the local area

Asylum seeker Arshad Mehmood, 34, from Scotstoun, said:  I am happy in council accommodation.

 Our children are at school and my wife and I are at college   we have good connections with Scottish society. Our life will be spoiled   we are being treated like cattle.

And fellow asylum seeker Rana Ali, 45, from Scotstoun, said:  I have three children   one daughter has already had to move school three times.  She is very upset because she doesn t want to move school again.

A council spokesman, said:  Negotiations had been ongoing since May and the most recent offer was rejected.

 The council could not deliver the services at a loss or we would have been subsiding the Home Office.

A spokeswoman for the UKBA said:  This is a regular meeting we have to discuss arrangements and the details of transfer of services will be discussed.

Joe Connolly, chief executive of YPeople, said:  YPeople already provides accommodation and support services for approximately 1100 asylum seekers at a range of properties in Glasgow.

 As a charity, we are committed to the welfare and well-being of all  asylum seekers in Glasgow.



Written by Concerned

November 16, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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 November 11, 2010 Thursday

Campaigners  shock as 1300 face  eviction  from the city they call home

A YOUNG mum has spoken of her fears for her family s fate as they and hundreds of other asylum seekers in Glasgow were told they will get just three days notice to leave the city.

Esther, a 25-year-old who asked us not to publish her full name, said that with the ending of the contract between the UK Government and Glasgow City Council to house asylum seekers she is terrified for her future.

She was one of people who, within days of the ending of the agreement on Friday,  rec-eived a notice telling her she will be asked to move home, to  somewhere in Scotland. 

Esther said:  I was very disturbed when I received the letter. I don t know where I will end up living.

 Many of my friends have also received the same letter and we are confused and scared.

The Evening Times reported yesterday how the 10-year-long deal with the council was ended after both side failed to reach agreement over the cost of providing housing and support for asylum seekers.

A letter from the UK Border Agency to the city s asylum seekers, states they will be moved in the next few weeks.

Currently around 1000 of Glasgow s 1300 asylum seekers are covered by the contract with the council and will be moved out of flats in the city to various as-yet unknown destinations.

Other contracts exist, with YMCA and Angel Group, but these are for far fewer properties than were available under the deal with the council.

The letter said:  When-ever possible you will be given 3-5 days notice of the move to  give you time to get ready.  It stated:  At the moment we cannot give you an exact date for any potential move. However, it will be sometime during the coming weeks.

 You will be allowed to take two pieces of luggage per person. In addition, children s toys, baby care items, medical equipment, buggies and disability aids are also allowed.

The Home Office has told those affected, parents with children who have started the final year of school or college leading to Standard Grade or Highers, that bid will be made to house them within three miles of their current home, but it is not guaranteed.

Esther, who fled from Ghana to avoid a brutal tribal conflict in which both her mother and father were killed, the future appears bleak.

After fleeing to Britain in 2007, she has pursued an  asylum case.

In the meantime, the young mum , has spent three years living in a tiny, one-bedroomed flat, so small she is forced to share a bed with her young son.

Last week she received her letter telling her she may be about to move house.

She said:  We have gathered three years worth of things in our flat. How can I fit this into two suitcases?

She is now scared the letter means she is about to lose her case for asylum.

She added:  Will this affect my claim? I am in danger if I am sent home. I m unsure how moving address will change things.

 It is not fair to treat us like this. I am scared for my future and my son s future.

People working with asylum seekers said there was shock when the news was announced and the timescale involved.

Remzije Sherifi, development co-ordinator with Maryhill Integration Network said:  This is the worst news in the last 10 years   it is going to have a big impact on people s lives.

 Glasgow has become  home to many people and groups like Maryhill Integration Network have helped.

 These people will have to start again from scratch.

Glasgow SNP MSP, Anne McLaughlin, who has already urged the Home Office to rethink its decision to end the Glasgow contract, as reported in last night s Evening Times, has now written to the Home Office over the letter.

She said:  I was shocked at the insensitivity in sending out such a letter. That it was sent out at all was deeply insensitive and wholly unnecessary. The great anxiety that this has caused the asylum community in my constituency is unspeakable.

Written by Concerned

November 11, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Fury and fear over removal of asylum seekers

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The Herald (Glasgow)

 November 11, 2010 Thursday 


MORE than 1000 Glasgow-based asylum seekers have been told they could be removed from their homes in the city and sent elsewhere in Scotland with just a few days  notice.

Following the decision to cancel a contract with the council to house and support them, about 600 asylum-seeker households received letters over the weekend from the UK Border Agency telling them that  whenever possible  they will be moved on with three to five days  notice.

There are concerns the 1300 asylum seekers will get little more than a day to pack their belongings and remove their children from schools before being relocated to an unknown destination.

The notice has caused fear and alarm, with more than 50 asylum seekers waiting for the doors of the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) to open on Monday to find out what was happening.

The SRC had to shut for a time during the day to deal with the volume of concerned clients.

The letters warn the recipients they could be moved to elsewhere  in the Scotland region .

Those being moved on are expected to take up accommodation and assistance from either the YMCA or the Angel Group, which was set up in 1999.

Questions remain about the joint capacity of these organisations to house 1300 asylum seekers in Glasgow or across Scotland   but Home Office sources insist they can.

The Herald reported on Saturday that the previous day the city council had been informed by the Border Agency of its decision to axe the contract, currently worth almost £10 million annually, after the two sides failed to reach an agreement over what financial support the authority should get.

The move could also reduce by half the number of asylum seekers coming to Glasgow, with the authority claiming this could damage the diversity brought to the city by the programme.

Glasgow is seeking £5m compensation for the termination of the agreement almost a year early. Neither the council nor any of its elected members received prior warning that UKBA would be writing to its clients.

The letter states:  We must inform you that as a result of the change of your accommodation provider you may be required to move to alternative accommodation in the Scotland region.

 Whenever possible, you will be given three to five days  notice of the move to give you time to get ready. At the moment we cannot give you an exact date for any potential move. However, it will be sometime within the coming weeks.

 You will be allowed to take two pieces of luggage per person to your new accommodation. In addition to this, children s toys and other effects, baby care items, medical equipment, buggies and/or prams and disability aids required by you or any dependants are also allowed.

The matter is now expected to be taken to Westminster, with SNP MP Pete Wishart lodging a series of parliamentary questions, while party colleague and Glasgow MSP Anne McLaughlin has also been pursuing the matter.

John Wilkes, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said:  Glasgow City Council has had a 10-year history of providing housing and support services for people seeking sanctuary in this city and has worked hard to ensure refugees and those seeking asylum are well integrated into Scottish society. The potential termination of this contract is a big disappointment.

A UKBA spokeswoman said:  We are working with our providers to ensure that all asylum seekers currently housed under contract with Glasgow City Council continue to be properly accommodated while their asylum claims are concluded.

 We will provide as much notice as possible and we have already contacted the affected service users to provide them with up-to-date information. We will continue to liaise with them to ensure this process causes as little disruption as possible.

Written by Concerned

November 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Asylum seekers deserve better treatment from Border Agency

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The Herald (Glasgow)

 November 11, 2010 Thursday 

For 10 years Glasgow has taken in more asylum-seekers than any other UK city. That is not the result of charity on the part of the city council but of contracting out its resources. The need to provide accommodation for growing numbers of people fleeing war or persecution in their homelands coincided with a drop in the population of Glasgow, resulting in empty homes and spare capacity in schools. 

It suited both the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the city council in Glasgow for asylum-seekers to be  dispersed  to Scotland because it relieved pressure on hard-pressed local authorities in London and the south-east of England, and provided a new income stream for Glasgow. The current contract is worth about £10m annually to the council for providing accommodation through Glasgow Housing Association and support services for around 1300 people. It has been abruptly  terminated by UKBA after a failure to agree new terms with the council because of a sharp decrease in the numbers and a greater proportion of single people rather than families needing to be housed.

The city council is not the only agency accommodating asylum-seekers in Glasgow. The charity YMCA (now known as Ypeople) and Angel Group, a private sector company, each has around 200 properties in Glasgow that are used to accommodate asylum-seekers and UKBA now expects them to absorb most of those supported by the council. But the arithmetic doesn t add up, so some will be required to move further away.

In a letter to 600 households, the UKBA shows little concern for the impact of this forced removal on  people who have already fled their homeland and whose lives are in limbo until they know whether they will be allowed to remain in the country. The instructions are terse. They will be given three to five days  notice to move  whenever possible  and can take only two pieces of luggage per person, plus baby equipment, children s toys and disability aids.

The only recognition of the difficulties caused to children who have to change school suddenly is an undertaking to try to rehouse families with children who sit external exams this year (citing the English GCSE and A levels  or equivalents ) within three miles of their present address.

Such a document is bound to cause panic in a situation where calm and order is required. The UKBA, in  common with other government departments (and local authorities such as Glasgow) must make economies in these straitened times. That is no excuse for brutal tactics when what is actually required is a speeding up of an asylum appeals process that can leave applicants dependent on the state for years. The experience of Glasgow and its citizens in helping  asylum-seekers to integrate should not be casually dismissed or wasted. The city s door should be left open.

Written by Concerned

November 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

MSP in plea for rethink on Glasgow asylum snub

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 Evening Times (Glasgow)

 November 10, 2010 Wednesday 

THE Home Office has been urged to  rethink its decision to end Glasgow s  contract to house asylum seekers.

Glasgow MSP Anne McLaughlin said people had already been sent letters telling them to pack their belongings just days after it was announced the deal was being ended.

Ms McLaughlin fears unnecessary upheaval and disruption to children s education, and has called for talks to restart.

Last week the UK Border Agency said it would no longer pay Glasgow City Council to house asylum seekers under the UK Government s dispersal scheme, following a row over increasing costs.

There are about 1300 asylum seekers in the city, with approximately 80% housed in Glasgow Housing Association properties under contract to the council. Others are in accommodation rented from the YMCA and Angel Group Ltd.

The council had a deal to take asylum seekers since 2000 and it is worth around £10m a year, for housing and other services.

Although numbers have fallen, the council said costs had been rising. The UK Government said the council sought a rise of up to 45%, which was not affordable.

Ms McLaughlin said:  I have been contacted by teachers, support workers and asylum seekers all desperately worried by this news.

 This happened only on Friday and already asylum seekers are getting letters telling them to pack two suitcases ready to leave Glasgow.

 Their children are settled in school here and they are just to be plucked out of their communities and sent away.

 Further disruption will also be caused to those receiving medical help for physical and mental health needs.

 Many are single mothers with young children who now have to settle somewhere else.

 I am shocked at the way people are being treated and call on both sides to get back to negotiations instead of needlessly disrupting the lives of children and families.

In statements both sides said the other had ended the contract.

Phil Taylor, regional director of the UK Border Agency, said it would be working with other providers to house asylum seekers.

A council spokesman said numerous attempts had been made to renegotiate the contract, but the UKBA refused to accept the council s position.


Written by Concerned

November 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tragedy of a toddler s death and his family s quest for answers

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 Sunday Herald

 October 10, 2010 Sunday 



 LENGTH: 535 words

 LITTLE Jasraj Singh Kataria loved to watch children walking to and from primary school from the window of his family s flat in Dennistoun, Glasgow.

It seems it was his curiosity which drew Jasraj, who was almost two, to an unused bedroom, where he pulled a heater to the window and climbed up onto it.

At around 10.30am on August 8 last year Jasraj fell from the back window of the third-floor flat. He died in Yorkhill children s hospital two days later.

His mother Jagmeet, an Afghani Sikh asylum seeker, found him lying on the ground outside.

 He was motionless. I cried out his name and ran down the stairs. I picked my son up; his body was shaking. I remember phoning Taranjeet [her husband] to come quickly,  she says.  We turned off the life support machine on the 16th of August, a week before Jasraj s second birthday.

A police investigation concluded that the death had been an accident and a report was prepared, as is routine,  in such cases and passed to the  procurator fiscal.

However, until the Sunday Herald made inquiries, the UK Borders Agency had not issued a statement.

Homes with vulnerable occupants must have windows fitted with equipment to prevent falls.

The Angel Group, a company that houses asylum seekers on behalf of the Government, insists that the flat was fitted with window restrictors and safety locks.

The family fled Afghanistan but with their asylum claim turned down, they had been left destitute.

After Jasraj s death the family travelled to London with his body.  They cremated Jasraj in London, which triggered a  coroner s inquiry that concluded that it had been an accidental death.

The family solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said he has requested the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service investigate holding an FAI into the tragedy.

John Wilkes, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said:  We would back calls for a Fatal Accident Inquiry in this case.

A spokesman for the Angel Group initially offered the Sunday Herald documentation to prove the flat had been safe, but their lawyers Carter Ruck told us confidentiality obligations prevented this being made public.

The company say the Home Office and the police have investigated Jasraj s death and would not have hesitated to take action against Angel Group if they had been to blame for the death.

In a letter, Carter Ruck said:  Our client s utmost priority is the health and safety of the individuals it houses and, as such, it takes extremely seriously any incident in which an individual is injured within its properties, and particularly any incident involving the death of a child.

Linda Dempster, regional director of UKBA, said the agency had carried out anlooked at this incident and were satisfied that the accommodation provider had complied with all safety requirements.

The findings of this investigation have never been published and the UKBA refused to provide a copy.

A Crown Office spokesperson said:  The circumstances of the death of Jasraj Kataria and a report thereon prepared by the Health and Safety Executive are under consideration.

Jagmeet and Taranjeet s grief is tempered by the fact that they have just had a daughter.

The family are seeking a judicial review of their asylum decision.

GRAPHIC: Jagmeet Kaur Kataria found her son Jasraj, left, lying outside their flat Photograph: Nick Ponty

Written by Concerned

October 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm

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Disabled asylum seeker moved six times in one year

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Evening Times; Glasgow (UK),

Sep 21, 2010 | by Caroline Wilson

HUMAN rights campaigners have called for an investigation into a government-contracted private landlord following its “inhumane” treatment of a disabled asylum seeker.

The demand was made after Helen Bih, 41, was re-housed six times in 12 months. The Glasgow accommodation was found by the Angel Group – an agency contracted by the government to find appropriate housing for asylum seekers.

None of the flats were accessible for her and she was left a virtual prisoner in her home. In the last property, in Ibrox, Helen said she was unable to use the shower or toilet and was forced to use a commode in her bedroom.

The mother-of-two, who fled Cameroon after witnessing the death of several family members and who has very limited mobility, said the repeated moves and the living conditions she had to endure left her “wanting to die”.

Charity Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) is demanding an inquiry after concerns about Helen’s treatment were raised by several agencies, including The Unity Centre, Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

Following mounting pressure from PAIH Helen has now been moved to appropriate accommodation by Glasgow City Council’s social work department.

Charity director Robina Qureshi said: “Helen cried with relief when she was told Angel Group was no longer housing her.”

Ms Qureshi has written to the Scottish Parliament calling for the Angel Group to be held to account.

Written by Concerned

September 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized