Charities call for increased protection for asylum seekers following Glasgow death



Concerns over the treatment of Glasgow’s asylum seekers have been raised to ministers following the tragic death of a Syrian refugee in the city.

Human rights law charity JustRight Scotland (JRS) has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Home Secretary Priti Patel calling on them to protect the rights of migrant communities across Scotland as they lift lockdown measures in coming weeks and months.

In the letter, JRS claims migrant communities have suffered disproportionately in the turmoil caused by COVID-19.

Positive Action in Housing has also written to the Home Secretary to ask her why 400 vulnerable men, women and children were moved from flats in Glasgow into rundown hotels during the lockdown.

The calls come just days after the tragic, sudden death of 30-year-old Syrian asylum seeker Adnan Olbeh, found alone in the Glasgow hotel room he had been moved to from his flat as part of Home Office-approved COVID-19 planning.

JustRight Scotland said the global pandemic has “exacerbated the deeply entrenched inequalities and difficulties migrants already face as a consequence of poor policy making and political choices”. Its letter calls on both leaders to ensure that “policy changes being implemented to save lives must not be dependent on an individual’s immigration status”.

Work carried out by the charity’s migrant and citizens’ rights project – Just Citizens – has found a wide range of concerns affecting asylum seekers, EU citizens and other migrants living, working or studying in Scotland. People whose immigration status stopped them from accessing public funds are particularly affected.

Examples include a 16-year-old girl, fleeing domestic abuse in the family, who was not provided with ‘looked after’ care by her local authority for several weeks, supposedly due to COVID-19 restrictions. She was placed in inappropriate homeless accommodation with no fixed financial support, and was forced to rely on food parcels from a local charity and handouts from a social worker to top-up her phone. She was isolated and put in an unacceptably vulnerable position.

Another example saw asylum seekers, moved out of flats into hotels by housing provider Mears Group, where it is claimed they are forced to use communal eating spaces. According to JRS, they have had all financial support stopped and are reporting high levels of emotional distress.

Just Citizens also highlighted immigration ‘catch-22s’ facing the most vulnerable EU citizens. Those without smartphones are now struggling to apply for settled status, as the primary route to applying to the Home Office is through an app. Without this status, it is harder to pass the habitual residency test, and in some cases means they are unable to access benefits, leaving them destitute. Fears were raised too around isolation and impact on mental wellbeing for migrant families with very limited access to outdoor space and no digital access to support.

The letter reads: “We already know that COVID-19 is hurting the Black and Minority Ethnic community at a higher rate, as such, we cannot afford to ignore the voices and experiences of migrants”.

It continues: “As you develop next steps in the easing of lockdown measures alongside the UK Government,…we ask that the Scottish Government fully evaluates the impact for migrants and take steps across all policy areas to protect and include migrant communities (in particular, those under no recourse to public funds (NRPF) which has already been deemed unlawful by the High Court) and pushes the UK Government to do the same.

“Any policy changes being implemented to save lives must not be dependent on an individual’s immigration status.”

Jen Ang, JRS partner and director of the Just Citizens project, added: “At JustRight Scotland we see every day the inequality faced by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. With COVID-19, the cases we are dealing with and the stories we are hearing from migrants are even more harrowing. Now must be the time for leaders at Holyrood and Westminster to take long overdue action to tackle the discriminatory treatment of migrants across Scotland, and the rest of the UK.”

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.


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