There’s heartbreak in Glasgow as asylum seeking families are being forced from their homes. This is occurring under a new wave of involuntary evictions and lock changes by a housing company prioritising funding over safety.
Just days prior to when the evictions were set to begin, the Glasgow No Evictions Campaign held a rally in George Square to garner support for those facing homelessness. We were reminded by one of the organisers that this huge chanting crowd was just a fraction of the resistance. Many affected had to stay at home, scared that if they left, the locks would be changed and their homes would be gone by the time they got back. On behalf of The Glasgow Guardian, we went down to listen to the stories of those asylum seekers whose future hangs in the balance.
Serco and Mears, despite having no legal right to evict asylum seekers from their buildings, are continuing with lock changes to force them from the only home they have. These are people who have entered the UK to seek protection, were sent to Glasgow for housing, and are now facing homelessness in a foreign country. An organiser for the rally explained to us that “This also affects the tax-payer: these people, one way or another, find themselves in the end in hospitals and in A&E, costing the community.” This endangerment of human rights is an endangerment of human lives, and the No Evictions Campaign is calling on the Home Office to provide legal and housing aid to those being caught in the gaps of the asylum system.
To understand the eviction crisis, we spoke to Kwexa, who fled political persecution in Iran in 2015 and was sent to Glasgow by the Home Office. Since his case was refused, he too now faces homelessness after his financial support ended.
“Since my support stopped, I often don’t have enough to eat, everything is from a can from the food-bank…There are so many things in my heart. I would never have been in this situation in my country. I never thought this could happen to me.”
Kwexa’s decision to stay in Serco housing, despite the threats of a lock change, are not the act of a rebellious man, but a desperate one: “Where else would I go? If they kick me out… it would be like dying every day.” He looks at his hands. “I am so tired of all of this.” The No Evictions Campaign calls in their statement for government intervention to offer better to people like Kwexa, to guarantee housing, as well as grant asylum. Otherwise, these people are simply caught in a system that traps them between destitution and squatting, as returning to their home countries is no longer an option. One man supported by the ASH Project confirms this, after being admitted to hospital for stress related illness: “I am not sleeping. I just don’t know what to do. Sometimes I wonder if I should just go back – so what if I am killed?”
Yvonne, one of the founding members of Migrants Organisation for Rights and Empowerment (MORE), has personal experience of the situation at hand. When she arrived in Glasgow, she too faced lock changes that made her feel “less than human.”
“When someone starts stripping away all the parts of your identity,” she added, “it’s like you don’t know why you are where you are. It’s like you are not living, you are existing. It sounds like a cliché but it’s not.” Now Yvonne is an activist, organising rallies and taking statements that help us better understand how important stable housing is for asylum seekers: “Merely the threat of eviction is so great that some people will just leave the house. The threat can be worse than the act – you are constantly on that edge. The threats are not just about removing you, it’s about demoralising you, it’s about dehumanising you.”
The prioritisation of human rights and the safety of these asylum seekers are definitely up for scrutiny under this wave of evictions. Yvonne goes on to tell us that there are asylum seekers being forced to exchange sex for housing, “There are people who come to us and tell us only way for them to have a roof over their head is to engage in transaction sex. They are being forced to decide, well do I agree to sleep with this person, or do I sleep in the park and risk being raped by three people? This is what the threat of eviction is. You are also thinking, will the Home Office come and deport me? Sometimes the Home Office might detain you.”
Homelessness isn’t just the cold and the hunger, it’s the danger of being unprotected, it’s the threat of what other people might do to you. As I sit writing this from the comfort of my flat, the temperature outside has dropped to 3C. After the protest, we both went home, understanding what a luxury even having a home to return to can be.
One woman questions her rights amidst her housing upheaval, “Where are women’s rights? I don’t hear any women’s rights from Serco. They are denying me my rights.” But then, she breaks down; the true pain comes from the fear of having travelled so far for a home she can’t keep: “The letter [from Serco] made me unwell; any sounds would wake me up, I don’t get any sleep, I’m scared people are going to come and look at me, take me. I am afraid. I was scared to go to the shops. I run to the bus. I am afraid.”
She was overcome by the kindness of the No Evictions Campaign and those who supported it, “I don’t have money, but I have friends, more people, and I thank God. I love people. There are good people in Glasgow.” And it’s true; the community has banded together to protect and rally for people like this. As we stood in the freezing George Square for the rally, the voices of the protestors rose up into a chant “People make Glasgow! People make Glasgow!” People do make Glasgow; and that includes everyone living here, so why wouldn’t it include the asylum seekers fighting so hard to have a safe place to live? Support the No Evictions campaign, attend their events, and stand up to the grotesque housing policies that are putting innocent people on the streets.