Home Office plans to withdraw accommodation and support from hundreds of asylum seekers in Glasgow are "dangerous" and "unconscionable", two Glasgow councillors have warned in a letter to Priti Patel.
Council Leader, Susan Aitken, and Councillor Jen Layden, are calling on the Home Office to drop plans for imminent so-called "negative cessations" in Glasgow which would leave people with No Leave to Remain, destitute.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the councillors declared that "the city stands ready to fight this, using all available channels, to ensure the safety of those who seek asylum in the city and for the wider community too."
The Interim Chief Officer of the Health and Social Care Partnership has also expressed serious concerns about the proposals and warned that there would be "no operational support" for the Home Office plans if it forges ahead regardless.
Cllrs Aitken and Layden said in their letter: "In the current public health environment, with the restrictions in place due to the pandemic and with reports of a Covid19 outbreak in one of the hotels where asylum seekers are staying, removing people from their accommodation is dangerous."
The letter adds: "Putting hundreds of vulnerable asylum seekers at risk of street homelessness and destitution during a global pandemic and knowing the public health evidence of risk, this move should not be seriously considered."
Accommodating asylum seekers is the responsibility of the Home Office via their contractors Mears.
Dear Home Secretary,
We are writing to you to ask that you do not move forward with your planned actions in relation to negative cessations in Glasgow. To do so in the current climate in the city would be dangerous, would put numerous people at risk and would be disastrous for community relations in the city.
We are aware that the Interim Chief Officer of the Health and Social Care Partnership has written to the members of the Regional Partnership outlining her serious concerns about this and stating that no operational support will be provided if you decide to do this to the city.
We share her concerns and support the action not to begin with negative cessations in Glasgow.
In the current public health environment, with the restrictions in place due to the pandemic and with reports of a Covid19 outbreak in one of the hotels where asylum seekers are staying, removing people from their accommodation is dangerous. It will not have support in the city, and it has the potential to impact on community cohesion in the city.
Additionally, asylum seekers are BAME groups that, via the operation of your outsourced asylum accommodation policy, are typically housed in private sector housing some of the most deprived communities in the UK, including here in Glasgow. The public health evidence across the UK is overwhelming that those in areas of deprivation encounter disproportionate risks from COVID-19 including death. These risks are magnified if those affected are homeless, with little support due to No Recourse to Public Funds and if from BAME communities. Sadly, refused asylum seekers - precisely the group you plan to render destitute here and across cities and towns with the similar challenges to Glasgow - are all these.
As you know from the outpourings following on from the three incidents in the city this year, and from representations from Councillors, MPs and civic society - we welcome asylum seekers and we believe that they should be treated with dignity and respect. Putting hundreds of vulnerable asylum seekers at risk of street homelessness and destitution during a global pandemic and knowing the public health evidence of risk this move should not be seriously considered.
We have ongoing concerns about significant pressures currently within our mainstream homelessness service which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We will also be unable to proceed with the same type of shelter model that we have worked with the third sector to put in place in recent years.
Whilst we continue to work through plans to provide support over winter, the impact of potentially hundreds of people no longer being supported and being put at risk of street homelessness, destitution and exploitation will be impossible to manage. Doing this would mean that for some people impacted, we have very little ability to support them because of the 'no recourse to public funds' legislation which we have written to you and your predecessors about on numerous occasions.
We probably should not be surprised at what you will look to do in relation to asylum seekers given recent reports that you asked officials to explore the construction of an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island and are yet to rule out using one of the Scottish islands as the location for this absurd idea. But to consider restarting negative cessations in the current public health climate and without giving local authorities even slightly more powers to protect the most vulnerable people impacted is unconscionable.
There are other solutions to the issue of asylum seeker accommodation in Glasgow which we have also raised with you and your colleagues. If you commit to properly funding the dispersal programme, which we know is the biggest barrier to other local authority involvement in Scotland, we are happy to work with COSLA to support other authorities who might consider becoming dispersal areas.
The city stands ready to fight this, using all available channels, to ensure the safety of those who seek asylum in the city and for the wider community too.
Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council
Councillor Jen Layden, Convener for Community Empowerment, Equalities and Human Rights.