Now They Speak, You Listen
Ako Zada from ‘Kurdish Community Scotland’ helped in producing the audio clips, translating from Kurdish and communicating with the asylum seekers. Karmand Ali also helped with parts of the translation.
[The following report consists of two parts. The second will be published in the upcoming week. The first report is focusing on the asylum seekers’ demands, while the second one on Adnan Olbeh, the Syrian refugee who was found dead in his room in one of the hotels provided by MEARS.]
Volume 1. Asylum seekers are speaking out about the issues they are facing in the hotels
Asylum seekers living in temporary accommodation around Glasgow have started a series of actions to protest their treatment by MEARS and the Home Office. Their first priority is to be moved immediately back to proper flats. The second main demand is the reinstatement of the £35 per week financial asylum support they were receiving from the Home Office. Further actions are planned if these demands are not met within a week from today.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19, hundreds of asylum seekers were temporarily moved to hotels around Glasgow under the direction of the Home Office. The operation was assigned to accommodation provider MEARS. Asylum seekers’ asylum support of £35 per week has since been removed, and, instead of this monetary assistance, the hotels are tasked to provide three meals per day. Groups like MORE, The Unity Centre, Kurdish Community Scotland, Docs not Cops, Maslows Community Shop-Govan and No Eviction Network have been since positioned mutual aid as the central facet of their functions, adapting to the rapidly changing circumstances under Covid-19 by providing asylum seekers with meals, cash and general support.
However, these organisations can only provide a certain amount of food packages per week. Ako Zada, active with the Kurdish Community said that “This is part of our ‘food project’: we prepare 100 meals, once a week, and distribute them to 3-4 hotels. It is hard to keep up, the food is not enough. Due to the circumstances we will increase the hot meals to twice a week. Please donate some money if possible, to support these efforts”. Any attempts from the asylum seekers to communicate their needs in order to improve their stay have been repeatedly ignored. After a long period of failed attempted communication between themselves and the hotels, MEARS and the Home Office, they decided they had enough.
Since the 3rd of June, asylum seekers living in these temporary accommodations started organising. Their first action consists of refusing to accept any ‘food services’. Up till now, most of the participants live in McLay’s Guest House, Hotel Ibis Glasgow City Centre and Mercure Glasgow City Hotel. More than 15 asylum seekers per hotel are participating in this action, while the number is about to increase.
Bella Caledonia spoke with some asylum seekers. They wished to remain anonymous.
Since the middle of May, a few weeks after the day Adnan Olbeh was found dead in his room in one of the MEARS hotels, the Asylum Seekers Housing Project (ASH) started investigating the validity of MEARS’s claims regarding asylum seekers’ living conditions in the hotels.
Grassroots campaigns and organisations such as the No Evictions Network, The Unity Centre and M.O.R.E. have issued a series of letters demanding to get answers. These letters are addressed to the C.E.O., Board of Directors, the Regional Head of Operations, Partnership Manager and the Welfare & Safeguarding Leader of Mears Group, as well as to John Taylor, the Chief Operating Officer of Mears. They are also addressed to the Home Office.
The letters point out important aspects overlooked by the Home Office, MEARS, and the Hotel management. Among the issues raised are the failure to safely transport asylum seekers to the hotels while complying with social distancing requirements; the lack of adequate social distancing measures inside the hotels; the lack of mental health support; and the removal of asylum seekers’ financial support.
The lack of attention regarding these issues is believed to have contributed to MEARS’ and the Home Office’s failure to adequately address Adnan’s case. There are numerous reports that Adnan repeatedly made attempts to warn MEARS and the Home Office of his serious mental health problems. Had his attempts been treated with the requisite respect, his death might have been avoided.
According to the Scottish Refugee Council’s Guide to the UK asylum and refugee process for journalists (January 2016), the need to seek asylum may arise for a variety of different and complex reasons: for example, someone might escape human rights abuses, a totalitarian regime, or civil war. Currently, at least 25,000 homes are empty in Scotland; yet, despite the Government’s pledge to “resettle 20,000 vulnerable refugees who have fled Syria […] by 2020”, asylum seekers in Glasgow still have to live in temporary and undignified accommodation.
Meanwhile, the housing maintenance specialist group MEARS, responsible for providing practical housing solutions to people experiencing displacement -among other issues- reassured the Evening Express, that they only expect to experience a ‘modest’ impact due to coronavirus, despite moving to an ‘’emergency only’’ service. Their existing lending facilities -worth around £170 million- are about to soon expand to the amount of £22.6 million, in order to increase its financial headroom.
A spokesperson from the Asylum Seekers Housing Project (ASH) said that despite the multiple complaints, MEARS is still insisting that the food quality is good. Yet the problem would have been solved had they publicly released the results of a survey that was conducted on April 2020, in which a question was raised regarding ‘’how would you rate the quality of the food [served in the hotels]?’’. Asylum Seekers Housing Project have been requesting the release of the survey since April; it’s already been two months and they are still waiting.
Asylum seekers have forwarded multiple complaints or simple requests to the Home Office and MEARS. These have been left waiting, alongside the existing long list of pending asylum claims. Although MEARS has repeatedly denied any legitimacy to the above criticisms of their services, their responses to the letters indicate that they can’t, or are unwilling, to collaborate in an open a dialogue with accurate answers.