THIS week, the people of Glasgow and beyond were once again confronted with the harsh and merciless reality of the UK Government’s asylum and immigration


On Wednesday, a ruling by Scotland’s highest civil court opened up an immediate threat of homelessness to around 150 people seeking refuge in Glasgow and brought bitter disappointment to all those advocating for a fairer, human

rights-based system.

The judgement represents the latest hurdle in a struggle which has been ongoing since last summer, when the Home Office’s private contractor Serco began changing the locks on accommodation it was contracted to provide for people seeking asylum. The company’s reason, of course, was money. A callous motivation when the lives of vulnerable people are at stake, to be sure, but one which they were able to justify – to themselves and, now, to the court –

because of the Home Office’s own


The people who Serco were standing ready and waiting to throw out onto the streets, with no warning, were those whose application for asylum had failed. In keeping UK immigration law, the money the Government was paying to house these individuals and families was cut off as soon as their applications were rejected. No grace period, no time to seek legal advice, no consideration of whether additional evidence could be submitted to overturn the original decision, as is often

the case.

It might seem cruel that, in Serco’s view, there was no question of moral duty trumping the importance of profit margins. It might seem still more shocking that, according to three judges on the Inner House of the Court of Session, Serco’s actions were lawful and could not be challenged on the grounds of breaching the Human Rights Act, precisely because it is a private company and not a public authority. And there are, without a doubt, urgent questions to be asked about the legal limitations on the Government’s ability to pay private companies to deliver vital services if those companies are under no obligation to abide by human rights law.

But, above all, what all of this should tell us is that the UK immigration and asylum system is working exactly as intended. It is not through some accidental alignment of an unfortunate set of circumstances that this horrible situation has arisen. No, the Home Office has been been designed with ruthlessness at its heart and it is the outcome of a coldly calculated set of policies that we now see on our


Not only are the people who will be forced out of their Serco-owned homes in the coming winter months not entitled to housing support, they – along with people whose applications for asylum are still under consideration – have no right to apply for benefits or even to apply for

a job.

The policy of “no recourse to public funds” was introduced through the Immigration and Asylum Act in 1999, prohibiting several categories of migrants – including those on student visas and spousal visas – from accessing mainstream social security. This poses serious risks not only to asylum seekers but to other migrants in difficult circumstances.

For example, if a woman with “no recourse to public funds” leaves an abusive partner, Women’s Aid are often unable to provide them with a refuge space because these are usually funded by housing


Now, add to this injustice the fact that people seeking asylum have no right to work. People with a whole range of past employment experiences who could contribute their time, energy and taxes to the community in which they are living are instead forced to rely only on support from the Home Office. And when that’s ripped out from under them, they have no hope of savings to fall back on and can only turn to charitable organisations for help in the face of state-mandated


There are steps which local authorities can and should take to ensure that the needs of people in this circumstance with physical or mental health issues are being met and that human rights are not breached, but the response so far from Glasgow City Council shows that there are far too many grey areas in the system.

If UK government policy doesn’t force the council to do nothing, it at least creates an environment where there is sufficient uncertainty over duties towards this highly vulnerable group of people that doing nothing seems defensible.

This should never be the case, but the situation is only getting worse. Under the Tory Government’s “hostile

environment” – a term coined not by critics but by then home secretary Theresa May herself – numerous immigration reforms have been implemented which make it harder than ever for people with an insecure immigration status to access public services.

New laws introduced in 2014 and 2016 put pressure on staff in the NHS, education, social work, banking and other services, as well as employers and landlords, to check people’s immigration status and deny access to those without the right to remain in the UK.

The stated goal of these measures is to make the UK as inhospitable as possible to “illegal” immigrants. In reality, there is no such clearly fixed category – the process is far more complex than that – and those with an insecure status are often the most at-risk and in need of


Ultimately, this system fosters hostile conditions and attitudes towards all immigrants, and the potential consequences of this for people who have fled from truly unlivable environments are disastrous.

The fact that people who are legitimately seeking refuge in our country can be treated in this way should be a source of deep shame to all of us.

These are people who have made their way, against the odds, to Scotland in search of the safety and humanity that they were unable to find in their home countries. People from places like Syria, Iran, Iraq, where civil war and persecution has made it impossible for them to stay. People who have become the collateral damage in a destabilised Middle East which the foreign policy of Western democracies, not least the UK, has

exacerbated at will.

The 150 people currently facing forced street homelessness in Glasgow are, in many ways, the victims of a perfect storm of inhumane foreign and domestic policies enacted by a state which quite simply does not care about the lives of people born outside its borders. This is the legacy and the future of the United Kingdom, unless a truly radical change in direction is brought about.

Once you understand that this is what the immigration system looks like when it is working – that these are the aims it was meant to achieve – the idea that it will ever be repaired through incremental, piecemeal reform feels hopelessly out of reach.

Following the ruling in the Serco case, Nicola Sturgeon said: “What we really need is control over immigration and asylum here in this [Scottish] Parliament so we can build from scratch, as we’re doing right now with social security, a system that has humanity, respect and dignity at its very heart.”

This won’t protect the people impacted by the imminent lock-change evictions; for that, our Scottish institutions will have to step into the void and demonstrate what a compassionate response to refugees really looks like. In the face of a real and present danger to human life and human rights, there is no time to waste.

But, if we are to prevent incidents like this – and worse – from arising in the future, I’m not sure we have any choice but to tear this destructive system down and start again. When we consider the question of Scotland’s future and what could be achieved with independence, there can surely be no more powerful, no more

urgent, answer than this.