A decision to evict potentially hundreds of asylum seekers by locking them out of their accommodation could lead to a “humanitarian crisis”, it has been warned.
Private firm Serco has begun issuing seven-day notices to the first of 300 cases in Glasgow informing them their locks are to be changed.
The company says it has been providing accommodation at its own expense after the Home Office withdrew funding for those refused leave to remain in the UK.
Serco, which is currently accommodating 5,000 asylum seekers in Glasgow on behalf of the Home Office as part of its Compass contract, said it had been working on the eviction process with the city council for the past four months.
But in a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, which has been signed by a cross-party group of SNP, Green and Labour politicians, council leader Susan Aiken said there had been “no meaningful engagement”.
The letter states: “We share the view that this action by your accommodation provider will trigger a humanitarian crisis in Glasgow, leaving an estimated 300 already vulnerable men, women and children destitute.
“Despite the local authority’s status as a Home Office partner in the asylum dispersal programme, there was no meaningful engagement with Serco prior to its announcement that it would commence changing the locks of the accommodation of those who have not been granted refugee status.”
The letter said the plans are “wholly unacceptable, not least due to the imminent risk of significant harm to a vulnerable group” and said those evicted are more likely to end up sleeping rough than to leave the UK.
The letter continues: “We hereby call on you, as Home Secretary, to instruct Serco to cease the lock change and eviction programme with immediate effect.”
Paul Sweeney, Labour MP for Glasgow North East, said: “We have a duty of care as a society to provide basic dignity for families who often have suffered severe trauma fleeing from some of the most disastrous, war torn conditions on earth.”
Mr Sweeney said he had met with one family which had been housed in “intolerable slum conditions” by Serco.
He added: “To now learn that Serco are planning to lock up to three hundred asylum seekers out of their temporary homes in Glasgow is an utterly despicable act of callousness that could lead to entire families sleeping rough on our city’s streets.”
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) yesterday called on Serco to reconsider its plans, saying the company was in danger of putting “profit before people,” while Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said Serco’s actions were “unacceptable”.
Carol Monaghan, SNP MP for Glasgow North West, said Serco’s decision would place “unnecessary strain” on already stretched resources.
She said: “Serco have been entrusted with a duty of care and responsibility towards these vulnerable families and individuals – I expect that to be fulfilled. To provide seven days’ notice of eviction is completely unacceptable and places them in a dangerous situation.”
Serco said it had issued six lock-change notices yesterday and would identify “no more than 12” further cases next week.
Jenni Halliday, Serco’s Compass contract director, said: “Serco has been providing housing free of charge to over 300 former asylum seekers who no longer have the right to stay in the UK.
“Whilst we are sympathetic to their plight, we believe we have been more than supportive of these individuals by providing them with an additional period of housing in which to make alternative arrangements but we cannot continue to provide free housing indefinitely.”
Historically, lock changes have not been used for those who remain in asylum accommodation despite the Home Office ruling they will not be granted refugee status and withdrawing their funding and support.
The plans were revealed at the weekend in a Serco email to agencies involved in supporting refugees.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while applications are considered. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs.
“While an asylum claim is outstanding, we would not be seeking removal. Even if an asylum claim has failed, we will provide accommodation for those who would otherwise be destitute and who are temporarily unable to leave the UK because of a practical or legal obstacle.
“However it is right that we prepare for someone’s removal if they do not have a lawful basis to stay in the UK and they are not pursuing an appeal.”