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Protests are mounting against a Home Office decision to start evicting thousands of refused asylum seekers from emergency accommodation this week.
Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow city council, has written to the home secretary, Priti Patel, describing the move as “unconscionable” and saying: “The city stands ready to fight this.”
Three elected mayors, faith leaders from all the major religions and hundreds of NGOs coordinated by Naccom (No Accommodation Network), Asylum Matters and Migrants Rights Network have sent open letters to Patel calling for an immediate halt to the mass evictions plan.
People began receiving eviction letters on 15 September informing them that they would be evicted this week. A Home Office eviction letter seen by the Guardian dated 22 September informed the recipient that their support would be discontinued from 7 October.
It stated: “As you are a failed asylum seeker you are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the United Kingdom. If you do not take reasonable steps to leave you face action to enforce your departure.”
Internal documents relating to a Home Office strategic engagement group meeting last month state that the department is reviewing 2,000 to 3,000 cases with a view to potential eviction over the next 10 weeks.
Thousands of refused asylum seekers were provided with accommodation by the Home Office at the start of the coronavirus outbreak because of public health concerns about leaving them sleeping rough during the pandemic.
The decision to evict them now coincides with a resurgence in cases of the virus, and critics say the Home Office decision makes no sense in either humanitarian or public health terms.
A letter signed by three elected mayors – Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, Jamie Driscoll, the north of Tyne mayor, and Steve Rotherham, the mayor of the Liverpool city region – says: “People who have sought sanctuary in our towns and cities and others with no recourse to public funds are all at risk of street homelessness and destitution.”
One refused asylum seeker who has serious mental health problems told the Guardian that five Home Office contractors turned up at her door shortly after 6am one day last week and wanted to remove her from her accommodation, arrest her and detain her. She was not there at the time but others informed her afterwards.
“It was terrible,” said another asylum seeker who answered the door. “There are a lot of children living in this accommodation and both the women and the children were terrified by this dawn raid.”
Another refused asylum seeker who received an eviction letter said: “I feel so down and hopeless, I don’t know what to do. The Home Office asked me to sign a form and send it back to them but I don’t even understand what the form is.”
Lorna Gledhill, the deputy director of Asylum Matters, said: “To evict people seeking asylum from their homes in the middle of a deadly pandemic, when you are asking people to stay at home to stay safe, is completely unacceptable. Our message is simple: everyone must be protected from homelessness, particularly during the pandemic. The Home Office must urgently halt their plans to resume evictions.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As the home secretary has said, we are determined to reform the broken asylum system to make it firmer and fairer – compassionate to those fleeing oppression, persecution and tyranny but tough on those who abuse our system.
“Those who have received a negative asylum decision, which means they have no right to remain the UK, are given a 21-day grace period. During this time they are rightly expected to make steps to return to their country of origin while still remaining in accommodation and receiving support. Cessations of support have now resumed following a temporary pause, reducing the demand on the asylum system.”