No Evictions Network – Campaigning for Asylum Seekers’ Housing Rights
Maria Torres-Quevedo on the No Evictions Network efforts to promote solidarity and organisation in the face of social and state hostility.
Savan came to the UK seeking asylum; initially, he was “fighting against this social injustice and these kinds of policies alone”. He started engaging with refugee organisations and doing voluntary work until he came to the No Evictions Network, which he settled on because of its commitment to fighting for justice for asylum seekers and refugees. The No Evictions Network is a Glasgow based organisation that works to support asylum seekers and refugees through organising and campaigns, particularly around housing.
Many of the members of the No Evictions Network either have direct experience as migrants or do work supporting asylum seekers and refugees in their communities, so they are familiar with the day-to-day issues they face. They are also connected to a broader network of campaigners around Scotland and the UK. The Asylum Landlords campaign, focusing on Home Office housing contractors, most notably the Mears Group, Serco, and Clearspring, developed out of these conversations.
The campaign has two main goals: firstly, it seeks to shift the narrative on asylum seekers; Savan notes that the Home Office has put a lot of effort into “demonising asylum seekers and refugees” over the last decade of Tory rule, painting them as an economic drain and a sociopolitical threat, while in reality there are very wealthy people profiting from keeping asylum seekers under very poor conditions through contracts with the Home Office. He insists that shifting public perception on this is crucial because the government strategy relies on “getting a mandate from the people” to enact cruel policies by claiming that asylum seekers and refugees are “wasting our taxpayers’ money while [the government[ waste billions– spending £77,000 on their eyebrows.”
Savan emphasises that, contrary to the logic this country seems to have internalised about the treatment of asylum seekers, the state’s responsibility is to ensure safe conditions for them. Instead, there have been up to 25 people to a room in some accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Savan mentions speaking to people at an ibis hotel where there had been mass complaints about the food and skin rashes, only to be told there would be no amendment to these conditions. He says people under these conditions are often on sleeping pills in lieu of mental health care, and with no right to work they are living on about £35 a week. He laments, “what we see is punishment rather than caring, you know”.
Calling the conditions punitive is not hyberbole— the Home Office have repeatedly made it clear that the conditions are intentionally poor to serve as a deterrent. These conditions are what we commonly refer to as the ‘Hostile Environment.’
The other goal, then, is to put pressure on Home Officer contractors like Mears and Serco to comply with basic standards of living and care. Their demands are:
- Allow people in the asylum system to live in safe, own-door accommodation, in the community.
- End the use of so-called ‘institutional’ accommodation such as hotels and barracks.
- Stop running asylum accommodation for private profit.
- Fund local authorities to properly support housing & services for asylum seekers.
The Asylum Landlords campaign set up a website– asylumlandlords.co.uk — which details some of the common conditions in which asylum seekers report being kept in hotels and barracks– an environment Savan makes clear is completely inappropriate for people who have gone through the often traumatic experience of getting to the UK in the first place. Testimonies report a lack of bedsheets, bed bugs, no access to medical care, declining mental health, and overflowing bins. The website also names and shames some of the people lining their pockets with these contracts– for example the millionaires at Serco, a company that the website says has received “£1.9 billion to house Asylum Seekers and then evict them and then house more again,” or those at Mears, which allegedly “took on a £1.15 billion contract to run asylum accommodation in Northern Ireland, Yorkshire and the North East of England.” The No Evictions Network carried out a media and social media campaign on this issue accompanied by seven days of action and a peaceful vigil.
The relationship between stoked racial tensions and profit is clear to Savan– he talks about the increasing hostility towards racial minorities stoked by governmental rhetoric and says “it doesn’t serve anyone except politicians” and those who “become millionaires and billionaires making money out of it,” by which he means people like the asylum landlords. “One of them is living in Sheffield, right next to the barrack. A few say he has an about £1.6 million house. So he is living in that– I don’t think he’s got 13 kids. I think he might be him and two other kids or like four people living in £1.6 million house. But he thinks it is appropriate to put 25 people in one room and get money for it.”
This profiteering has a human cost: “29 people in total died during COVID under the care of the Home Office and Mears. I’m not saying they killed them, but that’s under their care, you know. And haven’t seen a statement.”
While Savan is referring to the UK Home Office, he notes that, while the Scottish Government publicly welcomes refugees and asylum seekers, it is little more than rhetoric, since “they have no control over the policies” beyond putting pressure on the UK government. He also adds that “we still have far-right groups in Scotland; not everyone is welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. At the last demonstration No Evictions held, we were faced by a very extreme far-right group.”
Still, it is clear that Savan puts a lot of hope in the Scottish Government living up to its promises if it gains independence. He and the No Evictions Network have had encouraging correspondence with MSPs. He sees the Scottish Government’s treatment of migrants as a possible sign of hope: “at least they say something, you know, optimistic, we don’t have that in the UK Government… at least Scottish Government [is] now telling us ‘we’ll do something to’ you know… ‘we’ll give you some hope’. And now refugees are voting in Scotland. One of the greatest things I could ever imagine, you know?”
Looking forward, the No Evictions Network is prepared to continue fighting against the conditions faced by asylum seekers and refugees: “You don’t accomplish your goal in one campaign, or two, or three, or ten… We’re not underestimating the situation […] Our vision is to continue, that’s the main important thing; to be resilient, to continue to raise our voice to push the government, both the UK and the Scottish government, to stop the eviction of refugees and asylum seekers.”
Savan says “We are preparing now for another wave of evictions.” While the law has stipulated that evictions must pause during the height of COVID-19, “that will end close to end of May, that law is not going to be there any longer so they will resume the evictions.”
The way the end of lockdown restrictions will be managed for asylum seekers remains unclear “I just don’t know what’s the government’s plan to mitigate those kinds of high-risk situations during the pandemic, and I don’t think [the government] have a plan except criminalizing everything.”
“You have to adjust to rapid change in the asylum system, so we don’t know what’s going to happen after the easing of the restrictions, we don’t know if they’re going to rapidly put [asylum seekers] in accommodation and housing and let’s see what kind of issues they will face there because we know that a few of them are already in housing and facing some kind of issue: they don’t know how to register with the GP, they don’t have enough equipment in the house… So we will have to plan based on the situation, but for now, we will keep pushing on “no evictions”– we need to end that ultimately forever, not just during the pandemic.”