Council warns of legal action and humanitarian disaster
Glasgow City Council has warned that the Home Office’s plans to speed up the processing of asylum claims could lead to an ‘unprecedented rise’ in homeless people in the city. The council estimates that almost 1,400 people who are granted refugee status could be at risk of homelessness this year, as they are given only seven days to find accommodation after receiving their decision. The council says it has not received any government funding to deal with the situation, which could cost around £50m.
The council’s chief executive, Annemarie O’Donnell, said that the council might have to take ‘unpalatable’ decisions to avoid an increase in rough sleeping. She said that the council’s property portfolio was being assessed to find possible solutions, such as using empty care homes or prefabricated buildings. She also said that legal action against the Home Office ‘remains a possibility’.
Refugee groups express concern and offer support
Refugee groups have also expressed their concern about the impact of the Home Office’s policy on people seeking protection in the UK. The Scottish Refugee Council said that it was ‘deeply concerned’ by the number of people who could be homeless this winter. It said that it was impossible for someone who had just received their status to find new housing in a week, especially in the midst of a housing and cost of living crisis.
Positive Action in Housing, a homelessness and human rights charity, said that it wanted ‘immediate action to prevent the destitution of these vulnerable individuals’. It said that it was good news that people who were trapped in an oppressive asylum system were taking a major step towards rebuilding their lives, but it was worried that they would have no access to income or housing support. It suggested a ‘rent a room’ scheme to encourage people to take in individuals or families.
Home Office defends its policy and claims to offer support
The Home Office spokesperson said that the pressure on the asylum system had continued to grow, which is why it had taken action to speed up processing times and cut costs for taxpayers. It said that it encouraged individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that was leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.
The spokesperson also said that it offered ample support once claims had been granted through Migrant Help, access to the labour market and advice on applying for Universal Credit. It said that accelerated claims were expected to apply to people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen, who were more likely to get a positive decision.
UNHCR intervenes and offers assistance
The council leader, Susan Aitken, said that she had been contacted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who had offered support and assistance on this issue. She said that she had spoken to the president of the UN agency, Filippo Grandi, at an event in Geneva last week.
She said that he was explicit that when national governments had asylum policies that were not aligned with cities, it was unacceptable for them not to fund cities to deal with the pressures that their policies were creating. She said that he also agreed with her that Glasgow was a ‘city of sanctuary’ and praised its efforts to welcome and support refugees.
What will happen next?
The situation in Glasgow is likely to worsen as winter approaches and more people are granted refugee status without adequate housing provision. The council and refugee groups are calling for urgent action from the government and the public to prevent a humanitarian crisis. The Home Office maintains that its policy is necessary and fair, and that it provides enough support for refugees. The UNHCR has intervened and offered its assistance, but it is unclear what role it will play and what impact it will have. The fate of thousands of refugees in Glasgow hangs in the balance.