BY ARCHBISHOP MARIO CONTI
“I must have missed something,” I thought, as I read, with growing disbelief, the details of a human rights scandal likely to occur later this summer, not in a far-off dictatorship, but in Glasgow.
Put briefly, what is envisaged is the eviction and compulsory destitution of around 100 persons who have come to this country seeking asylum. They will be ejected from the housing currently available to them, and forced on to the streets; already they are forbidden from working, are given no mainstream social security benefit, no clothing, no food, no shelter. The latest threat is that they will be thrown into destitution.
The persons involved are refugees whose applications for asylum have been refused. Many come from strife-torn places such as Afghanistan and Iraq and others have no identity papers and thus cannot be repatriated, since some of the countries to which they would be deported will not accept them on UK Government-provided papers.
Until now they have lived in Glasgow, housed by Ypeople (formerly the YMCA). But this summer the contract for housing asylum seekers in Scotland has been switched to another provider – Serco, a multinational company which, among other activities, currently runs Scotland’s prisoner tagging system.
And since Ypeople (which operated a “no evictions” policy) must return the houses currently being used by the asylum seekers to their original owners by August 20, such persons, whose only crime is to have been born into danger and poverty, and to have come to this country seeking safety and betterment, face being thrown on to the street.
It seems utterly inconceivable that a country with such strong traditions of welfare provision, fairness and social cohesion could allow innocent persons to be evicted, banned from working, left without food and shelter, and effectively eliminated from society. But that is exactly what is likely to happen – unless something is done.
The obligation is on Scottish civic society to prevent this humanitarian scandal. Surely Serco, Ypeople and the owners of the houses could, over the next 10 weeks, negotiate a solution whereby the leases are transferred from one agency to another without evictions?
The situation is, of course, not helped by the culture of the day. The demeaning term “failed asylum seekers” is spat in the faces of these people by sections of the media whose barely concealed xenophobia helps foster the unhealthy climate in which the current plans have grown.
Yet who among us, on looking back into our own family history, could deny that the motives that brought these vulnerable souls to our shores are the same ones that motivated our grandparents or great-grandparents to leave their native lands – namely, the seeking of security and betterment for themselves and their families?
And who can justify a policy that discriminates between persons, not on the basis of need, but on the arbitrary placing of borders? Migrants from within the European Union are allowed to reside here, while those, often in far greater need, are excluded because they happen to have been born outside its confines.
Just last month, Pope Benedict made clear the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that governments must show humanity when dealing with such people. He said: “Exodus to the great cities, armed conflict, hunger and pandemics, which affect so many people, give rise to new forms of poverty in our time. Therefore it is necessary for states to ensure that legislation does not increase social inequality and that people can live dignified lives.”
Alas, the UK Government is pursuing a different agenda. Far from allowing people to live the “dignified lives” to which the Pope refers, we are seeing the resumption of dawn raids. Four family homes in the Glasgow area have recently been invaded by police and UK Border Agency officials while children were getting ready for school. I cannot imagine most of our fellow citizens feel comfortable about such activities being carried out in their name.
There is now an urgent need to let Her Majesty’s Government, the UK Border Agency and the housing providers know that we require them to avert the humanitarian crisis which is about to happen, and happen in this Jubilee year in which we should be celebrating our country’s noblest traditions.
“I was a stranger and you took me in,” we read in Matthew’s Gospel. The offering of shelter and hospitality to the needy is not only a Christian imperative, it is an act of basic humanity. No-one is exempt from our duty of care, and no-one is exempt from the duty of caring. That’s a message that the authorities need to hear loud and clear, before it’s too late.