Refugee and asylum seeker unit

Govan Law Centre (GLC) received funding, from AB Charitable Trust in 2016 to set up a Refugee and Asylum Seekers Unit to provide legal services with a particular focus on housing, health and the living conditions of asylum seekers and their families and children in Glasgow.  These funds allowed us to build partnerships with refugee asylum seeker organisations, and build trust with asylum seekers and refugees themselves, and develop our legal services and campaigns. 

There are approximately 10,000 refugee and asylum seekers in Glasgow. Asylum seekers have no right to work, cannot access the benefit system and rely on public services and charitable services like food banks. Failed asylum seekers are exploited and are often living in very poor conditions. Many are destitute. 

Work of Glasgow Refugees and Asylum Seekers Unit 

With AB Charity support GLC has undertaken legal casework, campaigns, lobbying, and media work – to improve understanding in the wider community and protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. 

GLC was the first and most active defender of eviction actions by Serco Limited against asylum seekers in Glasgow.  Serco took on the Home Office’s contract for providing asylum seeker accommodation in Scotland which is all in Glasgow, in around 2013 with some 5,000 asylum seekers as part of the UK Government dispersal programme.

In July 2018, Serco announced its “Move on Protocol” which comprised of some 300 asylum seekers households (who Serco described as failed asylum seekers, despite this being factually incorrect) and refugees would be removed from their homes using “lock change evictions”.  This meant Serco would no longer raise court proceedings but instead would serve notices and then simply change a households locks.  This hostile approach was accompanied by repeated unannounced visits by Serco staff to peoples’ homes with the insistence of repeated inspections of the peoples’ homes.

In response Govan Law Centre raised emergency proceedings in Scotland’s supreme court, the Court of Session on behalf of two Kurdish women, one with Iraqi citizenship and the other with Iranian citizen. These two cases resulted in Serco agreeing to pause all of its planned 300 lock change evictions in Glasgow until the court had determined the legality of lock change evictions. The cases of  Ali and Rashidi v. Serco Limited, Compass SNI Ltd and the Secretary of State for the Home Office 2019 SLT 463 were heard in February 2019 in Edinburgh with a judgment from Lord Tyre handed down in April 2019.  

We also set up a fast track partnership with Positive Action in Housing (support organisation for asylum seekers) to ensure that any person threatened with an impending lock change eviction had access to a solicitor to seek an interim order to prevent eviction without a court order, and preserve the status quo until the issue can be decided by Scotland supreme appellate court.

In these cases the UK Home Department (and Serco) sought to argue Serco was not subject to the Human Rights Act 1998 because it was a private company and in the provision of accommodation to asylum seekers it was undertaking a private function. This was rejected by Lord Tyre, however he did hold that the UK immigration system provided sufficient safeguards to as entitled State contractors to carry out evictions with the authority of the court.  The judgment is available here: https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2019csoh34.pdf?sfvrsn=0 

Govan Law Centre obtained instructions from Mrs Ali to lodge an appeal to Scotland supreme civil appellate court (the Inner House of the Court of Session) and permission from the court to expedite this appeal because Serco announced on 12 June 2019 that it was re-commencing its lock change programme against 300 asylum seeker and refugee households. 

Serco announced it would undertake these in batches of 30 households per week, because it wished to remove all such residential occupiers by the end of September, when the Mears Group take on the contract to provide asylum seeker accommodation on behalf of the UK Government from 1 October 2019.  Mears have not said they would not also follow a lock change policy, and ultimately this policy is fully supported by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Since later in June 2019 GLC has been raising court applications for interim interdict – the Scottish form of a court injunction – to prevent Serco from evicting anyone without a court order. Other agencies such as Shelter Scotland, Legal Services Agency and a firm of immigration solicitors (Latta and Co) have also been pursuing interim interdicts. So far 61applications have been granted ostensively pending the outcome of GLC’s appeal case. Meaning these families are able to stay in their homes.

At the end of July, the Scottish Human Rights Commission was granted permission to intervene in our appeal case of Ali v. Serco and others.  This is the first time the Commission in Scotland has made such an intervention.  

GLC case work examples of further areas of work include:

Homelessness cases which involve overcrowding and poor standards of accommodation. The person will normally be too afraid to complain or speak out for fear of losing their home or it having a detrimental impact on their asylum claim.  An example of a family being placed in unsuitable accommodation, is a family which consists of mum and three children. The youngest has Down’s Syndrome which mobility problems. The property is a 3rd floor flat which means that mum has to carry her son up and down the stairs as his wheel chair does not have access to the property. This is having a detrimental impact on mums health and causing stress and anxiety. The family are then reluctant to leave the property due to the difficulties in entering and exiting the property, which can lead to poor school attainment and other issues.

Families being placed in accommodation which is far away from services and schools that they require access to. We have an example of a case which consists of mum and dad and three children. It takes them a 3 hour round trip and 3 buses each way to get the children to and from school. The Council will only provide transport for a short period of time (Normally 28 days) and then the family are left to their own devices. Transport can be costly and lead to serious financial hardship on their already very limited income.

Unsuitable shared accommodation- families being placed in accommodation that they are required to share with other individuals who may have mental health problems or there are cultural differences. This can create  safety concerns. An example of a case was a father and his young child who were placed with a single man who suffered from quite serious mental health problems. Complaints were made to the accommodation provided with no avail and subsequent complaints were required direct to the Home Office. The Home Office agreed that this should not have occurred and the family were moved.

Campaigning

We use our legal case-work to build support for refugees and asylum seekers with decision makers, elected representatives and the wider community. We support public meetings, provide legal advice to campaign groups, and use the media effectively to publicise the conditions asylum seekers are coping with.  We have played a key role in ensuring that the issue of housing rights for asylum seekers is 

We are working closely with constituency MPs and MSPs, in the city. We have briefed the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon (in face to face meetings), and the leader of the opposition at Westminster, Jeremy Corbyn MP (in face to face meeting) to discuss this area of our work.

We use the media effectively, and are regular contributors to the BBC, STV and radio and press coverage. We have build strong relationships with journalists – BBC Scotland, STV, The Herald and Evening times, and elsewhere – and we regularly update with developments

Examples of media coverage: 

Research by both the Glasgow Caledonian University and Scottish Refugee Council show 96% of refugees experience homelessness at some point after receiving their status. The research also showed that half are unhappy with their living conditions. Lack of basic knowledge of services, rights and opportunities means clients do not know what to do to improve their situation.

GLC’s Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: “We are convinced there is much unmet legal need amongst asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow. We will use the law to inform, enforce rights and opportunities, and ensure full access to public services to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow”.