THOUSANDS of asylum-seekers arrive in Scotland to escape persecution and hoping to seek refuge. But the company responsible for housing newly arrived migrants in Glasgow is at the centre of a storm over allegations of mistreatment, bullying and racism, an investigation by CommonSpace, a new online news operation, has revealed.

Housing firm Orchard and Shipman, a subcontractor for security multinational Serco, faces accusations that its treatment of migrants breaches their human rights.

The disturbing reports could make Serco in breach of its multi-million pound Compass contract with the Home Office.

It is the latest scandal to hit Serco after revelations in a Channel 4 documentary about the mistreatment of asylum-seekers in the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in England run by the security giant.

While responsibility for compliance with contract standards rests with Serco, Orchard and Shipman is the company tasked with delivering the service in Scotland.

According to testimonies gathered, Serco’s legal protocol for dealing with asylum-seekers is being ignored as they are forced out of their houses and their locks changed while they are out of their homes.

One source has also revealed serious complaints made against a member of Orchard and Shipman’s staff.

Roxana, from East Africa, says she was bullied out of her house by Orchard and Shipman employees last week, without prior warning.

The 65-year-old had her asylum application turned down but was applying for a judicial review when, she says, the housing officers arrived and started to clear out her belongings and told her to leave.

“They came at 8.30am. I was getting ready because I had an appointment with a solicitor. I thought it was the postman but then two men forced their way in and said they are coming to throw me out,” said Roxana.

Fighting back tears, she continued: “I really pleaded and asked them to give me time to go to the solicitor. But they said ‘No’ and told me somebody else was moving into the house at 2pm.

“They are so unfair. Last night I couldn’t even sleep. My heart was paining and my body was shaking. I didn’t know people could be so cruel. I can’t believe that they treated a woman of my age like this – like rubbish. They took my dignity from me as if I’m a criminal.”

The company has also been accused of routinely changing the locks on the homes of people refused asylum, leaving them stranded outside.

Nuhan, 33, from Sri Lanka, says he was given 24 hours to get out his Govan flat by Orchard and Shipman.

Coming home one day, he says, he found two Orchard and Shipman employees were changing his locks. Nuhan says when he asked to be let in to get his things they threatened to call the police.

At least one member of Orchard and Shipman staff is under investigation after three separate complaints of racism, intimidation and bullying of asylum-seekers.

One of these complaints against Orchard and Shipman staff involves alleged mistreatment of a female asylum-seeker the day after she came out of hospital following giving birth by Caesarean Section.

After a family’s house was burgled, they asked to be rehoused unless the locks were fixed as they felt unsafe but, it is alleged, housing officer responded aggressively, threatening to call social services and have their children taken into care. The family propped a wardrobe against the door overnight.

Despite complaints being made, as yet none of the complainants have been spoken to by Orchard and Shipman, Serco or the Home Office.

Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar said: “I find these reports of evictions and mistreatment shocking.

“When you look at in the context of asylum-seekers, they are probably the most vulnerable people in our society yet they are being kicked out on to the street.

“It is because of their vulnerability that these private companies think they can get away with this awful treatment.

“They wouldn’t dare to treat ordinary members of society they way they treat asylum-seekers. It’s a breach in terms of natural justice and a breach in terms of human rights.”

THERE are also reports of desperately poor housing provided by Orchard and Shipman. A report by the Scottish Refugee Council last year identified widespread problems with the quality of homes for people seeking asylum in Scotland.

The report found concerns were raised about a lack of heating and hot water, dirty and infested properties, no locks on doors, families sharing accommodation with strangers, and a lack of respect from housing staff toward asylum-seekers.

Serco’s contract to provide accommodation, worth around £221million, includes requirements that Serco must “provide safe, habitable, fit-for-purpose and correctly equipped accommodation to asylum-seekers.”

The volunteer-run Asylum Seekers Housing Project (ASH) has been set up to help asylum seekers deal with issues around housing and support.

One of the group’s founders, Sheila Arthur, says there has been a deterioration in the service provided to asylum seekers.

“There are a number of things that the Home Office oblige Serco and so their sub-contractor, Orchard and Shipman, to do and one of them is to treat people with dignity and respect. That is not happening right now,” says Arthur.

“The quality of accommodation is often of a very poor standard and we hear of many people left without heating or hot water for days.

“It’s in the Compass contract that people must be provided with information in a welcome pack in their own language but this has not happened yet – it’s been over two years.”

Arthur says ASH has also had reports of misinformation being issued by Orchard and Shipman staff. “People are told that if they complain about their housing they will be reported to the Home Office and that might affect their claim. That is simply not the case.”

Graham O’Neill, policy officer at the Scottish Refugee Council, said what may seem small details to officials can have a “huge impact on people’s day-to-day lives and ability to feel safe and secure.”

O’Neill said the Home Office has a “statutory responsibility” to provide accommodation for people who are seeking asylum and who are destitute.

He emphasised those housed by Orchard and Shipman are vulnerable and destitute and added: “It is critical that the Home Office ensures that it has proper oversight of what is happening on the ground – and that it has clear processes to ensure that subcontractors meet their contractual requirements.”

The recent Smith Commission on further devolution for the Scottish Parliament suggested changes in who deals with asylum issues should be considered and also the possibility of different rules for asylum-seekers in housing, financial support and advice.

The Scottish Government welcomed the recommendations. A spokesman said the government believes vulnerable asylum-seekers must be given good quality accommodation that is safe and secure, and have access to the support they desperately need.

A spokesman for the Home Office said it is committed to providing “safe and secure” accommodation while cases are considered. “We expect the highest standards of our contractors and we have robust mechanisms in place to ensure those standards are met,” he said.

Serco and Orchard and Shipman did not respond to requests for comment.