Living in fear of Mears
23 July 2020
An update on hotel living for Glasgow’s refugees and asylum seekers
Firstly, thank you so much for helping to challenge living conditions at Tartan Lodge at the hands of the Mears Group – an outsourcing company with a £10B contract from the Home Office to house asylum seekers.
We found out what was going on there while helping people at the Hallmark hotel, who were moved from #ParkInn after the tragic incident of June 26 where one man died and six were severely injured, including a police officer. Two people from Tartan Lodge turned up to one of our outdoor surgeries. They showed us evidence of the disgraceful food and conditions.
The next day, one of our volunteers, Umran Amin, arranged for halal meals to be brought to the car park next to the hotel. It was both humbling and upsetting to see human beings queuing up so grateful for basic, nourishing food. That started a chain of events for the next ten days with more food and other resources being brought in. Eilidh, Jake and Lisa brought mobile phones for those who did not have them. Our volunteers distributed crisis support and PPE as well. Individuals and church groups from all over Glasgow brought snacks and hygiene packs. A lady called Binny brought food native to Sierra Leone.
Food was not the only problem. The psychological scars run deep. One man showed us scars on his arms from burning himself with lit cigarettes. Another man spoke no English, no one spoke his language, he had no phone until we got him one. Possibly trafficked here, and highly vulnerable to exploitation. Some people had bed bug bites. People were drinking water from the taps in their toilets. They were forced to wash clothes by hand in the shower. Rooms and bedding had not been cleaned/changed for months. All of this had been going on for months.
People were frightened of making complaints in case it affected their asylum claims. One man said he was told by staff that if he complained, he would be sent to Dungavel (immigration detention centre) and then back to his country. This man fled from death and his family remain terrified.
At a press conference arranged on the doorstep of Tartan Lodge under the gaze of the waiting cameras and reporters, the residents were locked in by staff until they had no choice but to let people out. Ironically, the first person to come out was actually coming out to bin inedible food from the night before. Staff inside tartan lodge told him not to leave for an hour until the press conference left. He refused and came out. It was exceptionally brave of people already living in fear who still insisted on speaking to the press.
Finally, after a dose of public embarrassment, the hotel began serving decent food. A weekly cleaning schedule was introduced. The laundry facilities were re-opened and a rota has begun. The local MP visited to give reassurance. The most basic human rights were won after a fight.
But the systematic humiliation of people made functionally destitute by Mears Group continues.
Last Friday, Mears staff called the police on Ahmed (not his real name) after he received a donation of clothes and shoes at the Ibis hotel. Despite explaining this, the Police were called. They questioned Ahmed, asked to see the clothes and made calls to check his story but made no arrests. Ahmed says he was treated differently because he is an asylum seeker and because of the colour of his skin. I believe him. All too often complaints about racism from People of Colour are undermined by minimising, ignoring or not acknowledging that they exist. We have since made a complaint to his MP Alison Thewliss and await a response. More than ever, Black Lives Matter and this includes those seeking asylum and refuge too.
The situation for all the refugees and asylum seekers put into these dire hotel conditions reveals the hostile environment that is in operation.
Many told us that Mears staff told them not to speak to “outside people or organisations”.
Volunteers assisting asylum seekers have also said that hotel staff have told them to get away from the premises. In May 2020, flowers left outside Mclays hotel by Pinar Aksu and others after the death of Syrian refugee Adnan Elbi were reported to have been binned by hotel staff.
People have spoken about being fearful of their asylum claims being refused if they don’t abide by Mears staff instructions. Sara told me:
“When I first went to stay at the Park Inn, they said “we can call the Home Office any time.” I remember thinking, why are they saying this?”
She also said that after the Park Inn incident, she went to help a lady who was being sick. She says she was immediately reprimanded for helping and told not to.
When people from Park Inn were given clothes from “outside organisations” they say they were told by Mears staff that they didn’t need them.
Another asylum seeker from Park Inn commented that “when you put 90 people with their own mental health trauma and their own problems under one roof, it is not peaceful, it’s a pressure cooker.
Add to this the fact that people are forbidden to work and have no money. The isolation imposed by Lockdown was understood but this other form of oppression was intolerable.
For anyone who is an asylum seeker and reading this, please note, Mears Group is simply a housing provider. Your case is between you and your lawyer. Mears has no say in the asylum process – even if they want you to think that they have no power to influence your asylum claim at all.
At the time of writing, refugees and asylum seekers from Tartan Lodge are being moved into flats. The Hallmark hotel is almost empty, however new asylum seekers with no outside support have been moved in.
This week, we got an emergency call about a Syrian refugee who was moved into a hotel and needed clothes and a smartphone. The mobile phone he was given by Mears was not “smart”. It was therefore rendered useless as he had no money to top it up. We provided a smartphone and our volunteers brought clothes and shoes.
Many who have already moved into flats told us of being asked to sign documents they did not understand, without interpreters, and not receiving copies. Upon investigation, this turned out to be a waiver asking people to give up their right to a 7 day notice before being moved elsewhere, as per section 2.12 of their Occupancy Agreement.
Several people reported that they were moved into flats they had not seen, nor did they know the area. They said that flats were dirty and uninhabitable with faulty appliances. Almost every person being moved is extremely isolated and has little or no access to money, food or Wi-Fi.
We continue to document the misery created by Mears in this city. There is an ongoing humanitarian crisis as a result of these hotel moves. People were uprooted from accommodation into hotels and hostels, losing any physical possessions. Now they are being moved back into flats with nothing, having to start all over again.
We have increased our capacity to support individuals by setting up a proactive volunteer network. Refugee Help brings volunteers, caseworkers, interpreters and refugees together to help refugees and asylum seekers rebuild their lives. These are not just words. Within 45 minutes of asking the Network in Glasgow’s East End for help with a refugee who was left without food or cleaning products or wifi, one of the Network members went out and bought food and snacks and cleaning equipment and dropped by and said hello, and agreed to show C the area and where he could get free wifi, meet friendly faces and find the local Church.
Volunteers are running groups from Forest Walks to Bikes and Mobiles to Food deliveries and Household items, and so much more. Through our advice service we are providing expert advice on housing and homelessness problems. People are helping people to register with GPs. A man with dangerously high blood pressure, suffering severe chest pains, and low on medication was forced to rely on a “welfare officer” to contact a GP and yet still received no answer after more than a month. We advised him to go to A&E and have begun the GP registration process for others. In the picture, people desperate to see a GP were registered by Refugee Help volunteers.
Refugee Help volunteers also began helping people to set up Next Bike (bike hire) registrations. We owe thanks to so many people for getting involved. This is the next step for Positive Action in Housing to continue to build our capacity on limited resources. We plan to replicate the model elsewhere too. Refugee Help will activate quickly in future emergencies too.
Nine months into the new asylum contract, Mears and the Home Office have questions to answer about their failure to properly assess the mental health of people left vulnerable by the asylum system, especially those forcibly moved out of settled homes and stripped of cash at the height of the pandemic and in the middle of the lockdown.
But this is not about a contract that began last year, it’s about two decades worth of misery created by forced dispersal and multi billion pound asylum contracts to the lowest bidder even if they’re fully unqualified to deliver the necessary support services. All this while conspiring to create a climate of fear and the perception amongst asylum seekers that if they dare to complain about poor living conditions then it could impact negatively on their claim for asylum. That’s why Positive Action in Housing and hundreds of organisations and individuals from across Scotland are seeking a full independent public inquiry. We continue to ask people and organisations that care to add your voice to the call by hundreds across civic society for this demand to be met.
If you want to help, please support our Call to Action below and give a regular donation to our Emergency Relief Fund, however modest.
July 23rd 2020
CALL TO ACTION
CALL FOR A PUBLIC INQUIRY
Add your name in support of a public inquiry into the failure of duty of care by the Home Office and Mears Group towards Glasgow’s hotel asylum seekers.
VOLUNTEER WITH REFUGEE HELP:
GIVE A REGULAR OR ONE OFF DONATION:
This is our only official fundraiser; it makes a big difference throughout the year and at times of crises. Make a one off or regular donation via CAF (we prefer regular donations however modest as it helps us plan our work):
For other ways to give, go to: www.paih.org/donate
DONATE VIA INTERNET BANKING:
Positive Action in Housing
Account 00447398 Sort code 822000
Tell us if you wish to gift aid your donation, just email firstname.lastname@example.org
Companies wishing to donate can request an invoice by emailing email@example.com
DONATE YOUR SPARE SMARTPHONE
A lifesaver! Do you have a spare laptop, iPad or mobile phones? Just erase the contents and reset your device. Sanitise it, then pop it in a Jiffy bag and donate to us so we can pass it onto people who can benefit. This is vital to staying in touch. It has to be a smart phone though, in order to be able to pick up free Wi-fi. Post to: Refugee Appeal, Positive Action in Housing, 98 West George Street Glasgow G2 1PJ or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a socially distanced drop off.
DONATE NEW OR ROADWORTHY ADULT BIKE(S)
One of the biggest problems is travel. As an asylum seeker, you are not allowed to work and those living in hotels get no money at all. (People don’t want to depend on charities or the state. They actually want to work and build their lives). People being moved to flats are often far from the centre of Glasgow and this makes it difficult to reach essential services like lawyers or supportive charities. Travel is expensive too. We are therefore helping people get donated bikes and subscriptions to Next Bike where they are in the centre of town, near Next Bike stations. So can you drop off a roadworthy bike? If so, please email email@example.com and help us get People left vulnerable by the asylum system, through this crisis. Thanks to Aneela McKenna from GoWhereScotland for supporting this appeal!
LIKE OUR FACEBOOK PAGE
To keep updated with our latest campaigns. There’s also Instagram and Twitter, both positiveactionh (the h is for housing where it all began)
HELP FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS IN GLASGOW:
For asylum seekers who have been moved by Mears Group from hotels to accommodation in Glasgow, if you need advice, information or practical support, pre-legal casework or just someone to talk to, please fill in this online form:
We can help with things like :
*General advice information and casework
*Factual information about asylum and Covid19
*Repairs (Call and text housing officer – keep record of communications)
*Complaints about Mears
*Essential household items if you just recently moved in
*Mental health issues
USE GOOGLE TRANSLATE
To translate English into the language of your choice, or vice versa. Remember though, google translate is not perfect. Short sentences in plain language are easiest to translate correctly.