At half past ten this morning I will be attending a demonstration in Glasgow outside the City Chambers protesting against the UKBA decision to cancel its contract with GCC to house and support asylum seekers.
They've done it over a row about the fee they pay the council to carry out this work. The contract was due to expire in less than a year and renegotations would have taken place then. Given that the UKBA may have to pay compensation of up to £5million now for the early cancellation, it doesn't even make financial sense, never mind any other kind of sense!
I'm protesting for a number of reasons. First, as Glasgow has been working with asylum seekers since the year 2000 so has built up a considerable body of expertise. Services have been put in place to deal with the particular needs of asylum seekers. Certain areas eg Springburn, Cranhill have language support teachers in schools and medical practices, there are support workers employed in these areas. It doesn't always work perfectly but Glasgow is placed better than anywhere else in the country to carry out this work.
What this does is WASTE that expertise and experience in Glasgow and it puts a demand on the rest of the country to replicate it. So, say 40 families are moved to Perth. Are the schools there just supposed to cope, are the children just supposed to adjust? And where is the housing coming from? I have contacted Shelter Scotland to get figures on housing availability across the country because what the UKBA are, in effect, saying is "we don't want those 600 houses already being used in Glasgow for asylum seekers, we want to use up housing in other parts of Scotland".
(I am aware some people I've had contact with recently will be jumping for joy thinking this frees up housing in Glasgow for them. Eg the constituent who attacked me for campaigning to keep Florence and Precious Mhango in Cranhill when he couldn't get a flat there. When I went to the housing with him (because I don't, contrary to what he said, just work with asylum seekers) he was quite clear - no multi storeys, no upstairs (he's 27 btw), in fact nothing short of a back and front door. Most of the people who kick up a fuss don't actually want what we give to asylum seekers.)
From the briefings I have received it seems there was no consultation with anyone regarding this move. That astonishes me because the implications for GCC, for the rest of Scotland and of course for these very vulnerable people themselves are immense. It didn't occur to UKBA to speak to anyone who might take over the contract, anyone who might be affected by the move, anyone at all!
I have written to the UKBA and asked them a number of questions. I want to know if Glasgow City Council were aware that this was a possibility, that the contract might suddenly be terminated. If they were then they too are implicated but to be fair, from all I've heard so far, I'm on the council's side on this. Whatever, SOMEONE knew this was a possibility and they should have brought in mediation, they should have consulted, they should have known the consequences for everyone involved would be massive.
The day the council received the note telling them the "deal was off" asylum seekers received a letter basically saying "you're moving, get ready". It didn't say when but promised they would be given 3 to 5 days notice.
3 to 5 days notice??!
Outrageous. I can't even get ready to go on holiday at that short notice and they are expected to leave behind everything they know, not knowing where they are going in 3 to 5 days. Bear in mind many of them have already done that. Many have fled their own countries and they've come here with nothing and nobody. So the friendships they make in Scotland are intensified by the fact that they have no-one else. And they have to leave all that behind with 3 to 5 days notice.
They were told they could take 2 suitcases per person. Outrageous.
Many asylum seekers have been given things by well wishers to make their lives a bit easier. Individuals and the likes of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees will give them toys and books for their children, a TV that would otherwise have gone in the skip, little things to make life more bearable. And they have to leave them all behind. And what if they don't have 2 suitcases per person. It is not the equivalent to suitcases, it is suitcases.
Last week I took calls from worried asylum seekers, their friends and neighbours, church ministers, teachers and headteachers all desperately worried and right to be.
This is shocking and we have to find a way to stop it. Where there's a will there's a way. My fear is that the will is not there on the side of the UKBA. They can not care or they would not have sent such a callous letter. Come to the demo if you can and join our facebook group by clicking here. Be part of the campaign.