Glasgow & West Scotland

Two arrests at Serco eviction protest in Glasgow

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Media captionGlasgow evictions protest at Home Office building in Govan

Two men have been arrested at a protest outside the Home Office building in Glasgow.

Protesters supporting two hunger-striking asylum seekers attempted to chain gates outside the building during the incident on Friday morning.

It follows planned evictions by contractor Serco of about 300 people who have been refused asylum.

A large police presence guided protesters off the roads and onto the pavements.

It is believed the protesters wanted Home Office officials to meet the two young Afghan men who are on hunger strike outside.

After heated scenes between police and demonstrators, the two men were taken inside the building in Govan, but it was not clear if this was for the meeting campaigners were asking for.

An ambulance was later seen arriving at the location and medical staff spoke to the two men.

Police Scotland confirmed two men, aged 45 and 58, were arrested for minor public disorder offences.

They have been charged, but released pending a court appearance.

Image caption Scenes were reportedly "heated" outside the Home Office building in Govan
Image caption Irwais Ahmadzai (left) and Rahman Shah say they will remain outside the Home Office building until officials agree to look again at their case

The two Afghan men - Rahman Shah and Irwais Ahmadza -have been refused refugee status, and stopped eating after being told they were to be evicted from their homes.

Mr Shah and Mr Ahmadzi have said Afghanistan is not a safe place to return to.

They plan to continue their protest until the Home Office agrees to look again at their cases.

Mohammad Asif, from the Scottish Afghan Society, is calling on the Home Office to allow the two hunger strikers to stay in the UK: "The Home Office should reconsider their applications because they are still pending.

"But the thing is, one of the men, his life has been totally destroyed.

"He came here as a minor, a young boy. He cannot get married, he cannot get work, he cannot get accommodation, he cannot move address, he cannot get employment, he cannot have children, he cannot plan a future.

"So that's not life - and Afghanistan is not safe."

Serco is employed by the Home Office to provide accommodation for about 5,000 asylum seekers in Glasgow, but says it often has to provide housing without recompense, sometimes for months, for failed former asylum seekers who have no right to stay in the UK.

Serco 'sympathetic'

On Monday, it issued notices to six of those affected warning that their locks will be changed within seven days.

Historically, lock changes have not been used for those who remain in asylum accommodation despite the Home Office ruling they will not be granted refugee status and withdrawing their funding and support.

Serco insists it is "sympathetic" to those affected, but the company has been heavily criticised by politicians and refugee charities, who accuse it of putting profit before people.

Image caption A heavy police presence at the Home Office building
Image caption Chains were put on gates at the Home Office building

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while applications are considered. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs.

"While an asylum claim or an appeal is outstanding, we would not be seeking removal.

"If the courts have decided that someone has no right to remain in the United Kingdom it is right that they should leave the UK.

"However if an asylum claim has failed, we will still provide accommodation for those who would otherwise be destitute and who are temporarily unable to leave the UK because of a practical or legal obstacle."

Earlier Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland radio programme the council was prohibited from providing accommodation for people who have exhausted the asylum process but uses its general power of welfare to help particularly vulnerable groups such as families and those with HIV.

She said she had instructed council lawyers to examine whether this can be extended to cover those who face having their locks changed by Serco, many of whom are young, single men.

Legal challenges

Ms Aitken said: "We need to look at it very carefully and we are looking at it very carefully if we can use our general power of wellbeing to supersede UK law and support a wider range of people who find themselves essentially being made destitute as a consequence of UK government policy."

She said the council could face legal challenges from the Home Office over its actions.

Ms Aitken added: "Glasgow City Council will step up and we will support vulnerable people where we possibly can but what we really need is not for us to step in and pick up the mess left behind by UK government policy. We need a change in UK government policy."

Image caption Protesters gathered at the Home office in Govan

Serco revealed plans at the weekend to begin changing the locks on accommodation for asylum seekers refused refugee status.

The group said it has provided accommodation for months in some cases for those without the right to remain in the UK, without recompense from the Home Office and at a cost of more than £1m a year, which it claimed should be borne by the council.

Ms Aitken said these costs should be borne by the Home Office and repeated calls to Home Secretary Sajid Javid to step in and stop the evictions.

Serco chief executive Rupert Soames has said lock-change notices would be given to no more than 10 people a week for the next four weeks.

He said none of these would be families with children and all will be people who the Home Office considers to have exhausted their appeal process and no longer have the right to remain.

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