Friday, 10 January 2014

Damning report on G4S and Serco ignored in bid to vilify asylum seekers

 Today the National Audit Office published a report about the Compass Contract for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers.

The Home Office press release highlighted how G4S and Serco struggled to get contracts up and running, which resulted in poor performance, delays and additional costs for the Home Office.

The 8-page executive summary concludes by mentioning:
  • Unresolved issues one year on
  • The challenge of transition to the new contract
  •  The struggle to establish supply chains resulting in poor performance, delays and additional costs
  •  providers still failing to meet some of their Key Performance Indicators,

Transition to these new Compass contracts had devastating impact on the lives of people in Leeds. For example, one family were told they were being moved on a particular day. They packed their bags and waited on their suitcases until finally at around 5pm a council officer went out of his way to contact the G4S subcontractor and discovered that their move had been cancelled.

Working with asylum seekers influences my perspective and means that when I read reports like this I am filtering the information and looking for evidence that backs up my personal opinion.

Charlie Booker in his BBC2 Weekly Wipe highlighted how people’s personal opinions can be so set that they disbelieve the facts or have wildly inaccurate opinions (see the interviews 3 min 22 seconds in).
Much of this inaccuracy comes from media reporting and especially from headlines, which means that the ethos of a newspaper and the journalist perspective (or spin) on a story have a huge impact.

The first headline of the day was surprising
0:01 'Destitute' asylum seekers had iPads and luxury goods, says report by government auditors - Telegraph

This headline came from paragraph 3.20 at the end of the report:
During the fieldwork for our investigation, we visited a sample of properties used to house asylum seekers. In some of these, it was clear that the occupants may have a level of income above that expected of someone receiving the minimum level of support under section 4 or section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. There is a risk that individuals or families may be occupying properties to which they are not entitled, thus taking resources away from those more in need. Where housing officers see signs of wealth on their regular inspections, indicating that the occupant may have a higher level of income, they have a contractual duty to report this to the relevant authorities in the Department within one working day
There’s no mention of iPads but David Barrett the Telegraph reporter got extra information from the Press Office at the National Audit office. I also phoned the Press Office and was told that investigators saw “iPads, televisions, push bikes and mobiles.” They visited 10 houses in the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and London and in at least 1 house in each region they saw at least one of these items. The press officer stressed to me that this was a “very minor part of the report” and that “the sample was very small.”

Mobiles are essential to all asylum seekers. They provide the only way for people to keep in contact with their solicitor to pursue their legal case. Pafras a local charity in Leeds collects old mobiles to give to destitute asylum seekers.

Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network, another charity has had many asylum seekers volunteer. One had a push bike given to him so that he could get to the office to do his voluntary work. He had no cash for bus fares as he lived on £35.39 per week in supermarket vouchers.

That only leaves the television as the “luxury goods”.

The next batch of headlines were as follows:
0:02 G4S and Serco failing to house asylum seekers properly, says watchdog – The Guardian
0:03 G4S and Serco censured on asylum housing –
1:52 The 'destitute' asylum seekers with luxury TVs and iPads: Checks at taxpayer-funded properties find 10% have 'signs of wealth' – Daily Mail
1:20 Concerns over asylum seeker housing - ITV
1:22 Concern over asylum seeker housing – The Times
1:23 Concern over asylum seeker housing – The Star
1:29 Some refugees taking homes 'from those more in need' - ITV
2:27 G4S and Serco 'struggled' to provide asylum housing - ITV
2:38 Some asylum seekers in housing 'to which they are not entitled' - ITV
2:41 Firms 'place asylum seekers in sub-standard housing' - BBC
2:47 Govt aiming to recover £7m from G4S and Serco - ITV
3:15 Serco: Asylum seeker housing 'challenging' - ITV
4:05 NAO slams G4S and Serco over asylum housing failings – Public Finance
8:47 Asylum seekers in Britain are being housed in publicly-funded accommodation despite earning a wealthy income – Wales Online
8:49 am Serco shares fall on bungled accommodation for asylum seekers – City A.M.
10:15 Benefits Asylum Seekers Have TVs And Ipads – Sky News
10:25 G4S and Serco could pay government £4 million over failures in asylum seeker housing contracts – Supply Management
10:34 G4S and Serco heavily criticised for asylum housing conditions –

Out of the eighteen headlines, 37% have a negative focus on asylum seekers rather than focussing on the poor performance of the private contractors or the extra public money spent. No wonder the public don’t believe the facts on asylum.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Leeds No Borders Celebrates International Migrant Day

The United Nations adopted the ‘International Convention onthe Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of TheirFamilies’ on the 18th December 1990. To celebrate the 10th anniversary in 2000 the General Assembly declared the 18th December International Migrant Day.

This year’s message from Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, was to: "...make migration work for the benefit of migrants and countries alike. We owe this to the millions of migrants who, through their courage, vitality and dreams, help make our societies more prosperous, resilient and diverse."

To mark the day the recently re-formed Leeds No Borders group, led by Kate and Manuel, organized an open mic at Wharf Chambers: an evening of short films, poetry, sharing stories and music where everyone was invited to perform. There was even dinner, a delicious vegetarian meal of pumpkin curry, rice and dahl.

The night started with a screening of a short film about the migrant situation at the Calais Border on the other side of the English Channel. It showed the terrible situations of migrants in Calais, living in single layer tents that offer no protections against the bitter cold of the Channel. The film was followed with a short talk by Kamel from Syria who just last October, after crossing Europe, was living in Calais in those same conditions, identifying many of the people showed in the film as his friends. A film to make us not forget that there are people living in appalling conditions in an internal border of two of the richest countries in Europe, a reality of life that many of us would think impossible right on our doorstep.

Leeds No Borders did not forget all those migrants imprisoned inside the several detention centers around the country. There was a table with Christmas cards, on which everyone was welcomed to write a message which would then be delivered to those who had to spend Christmas in detention centers. On the laptop people could read about the campaign to stop the deportation of Florence, who has been living in Leeds since 2002, and how to help campaign to stop her deportation to Zimbabwe. Happily she was not deported, but is still detained in Yarl's Wood women's detention center.

The event itself continued with people performing and a special mention must go to the Women Asylum Seeker Choir, who delighted the audience with poems, spoken word and some great acapela performances. Each of their pieces aims at raising awareness of the situation of migrants, as in the poem ‘Brown Envelope’ with its powerful imagery of waiting daily for a piece of paper that will decide the future.

It was an extraordinarily successful night with many of those attending saying that it was the first time that they had properly danced since arriving in Leeds. So successful that it will become a regular event held at Wharf Chambers, the next one on Tuesday 28th January. More details on their event Facebook page. A highly recommended social to add to the diary.

Leeds No Borders meet regularly and their next meeting is Tuesday 9th January.
Read more about them on their blog and Facebook page: 

Check out the social media response to International Migrant Day at #IAmAMigrant

Rodolfo Barradas