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Refugee groups bitterly disappointed after Scottish Court of Session rules Serco's policy of evicting refused asylum seekers is lawful

Summary:

Groups warn several hundred people at risk of summary eviction following ruling in Ali v Serco

Date of Publication:
18 November 2019

Refugee groups bitterly disappointed after Scottish Court of Session rules Serco's policy of evicting refused asylum seekers is lawful

18 November 2019
EIN

The Scottish Refugee Council said last week that it was bitterly disappointed by the Court of Session's decision in the case of Ali v Serco [2019] CSIH 54, which ruled that Serco's policy of lock-change evictions of refused asylum seekers without obtaining a court order was lawful.

As noted by BBC News, Serco had been contracted until September 2019 by the Home Office to provide accommodation to about 5,000 asylum seekers in Scotland. Serco received no funding from the Home Office for asylum applicants after their claims were refused.

Govan Law Centre explained: "In July 2018, Serco announced its 'Move on Protocol' which comprised of some 300 asylum seekers households (who Serco described as failed asylum seekers, despite this being factually incorrect) and refugees would be removed from their homes using 'lock change evictions'. This meant Serco would no longer raise court proceedings but instead would serve notices and then simply change a households locks. This hostile approach was accompanied by repeated unannounced visits by Serco staff to peoples' homes with the insistence of repeated inspections of the peoples' homes."

Fiona McPhail, the principal solicitor of the housing charity Shelter Scotland, warned that last week's court decision means around 300 people will now be at risk of summary eviction, with no right to homeless assistance or no right to work to earn their own income to cover rent.

McPhail said that the Court of Session's finding that Serco is not a public authority and therefore does not need to comply with the Human Rights Act was "deeply concerning".

She added: "It's the state that has the statutory obligation to accommodate asylum seekers – if by privatising those services, the state can avoid its obligations under human rights law, this sets a dangerous precedent."

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said the Court's decision "has profound consequences for how people's rights are protected when public services are delivered by private providers."

The Glasgow-based refugee and migrant homelessness and human rights charity Positive Action in Housing said it was very disappointed by the ruling and warned that a dangerous precedent has been set for the state to avoid its human rights obligations.

Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing, said: "We now face a situation where hundreds of vulnerable people risk being made street destitute in wintry conditions, with no right to homeless assistance or the right to work to earn money to pay rent. People are very frightened.

"Serco is stating that they will lock out 20 people a week who it claims 'have no right to remain in this country'. Serco is not an immigration officer to decide on people's status, which is highly fluid, it is a corporate multinational making money out of asylum seekers. These lockouts will cause misery on our streets, for Serco this is nothing more than a cleaning up exercise at the end of its contract in Scotland."

According to BBC News, Serco is still housing about 150 people whose asylum applications have been refused and said it would now proceed "in a considered and sensitive manner" to return these properties to their owners.

A spokesperson for Serco told The Herald: "Serco has been demonised and subject to extreme criticism, and the fact that we have spent millions of pounds supporting people who no longer have a right to remain in the UK and providing them with free accommodation has been widely ignored."

Govan Law Centre said in a statement: "The Inner House has refused our client's appeal and allowed the cross-appeal for the Home Office. We will study the court's opinion carefully and take our clients instructions in relation to seeking permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court."