MOTHERS and babies seeking asylum in Scotland are still being housed in cramped and unsafe conditions that pose a significant risk of violating their human rights, according to a new report.

The office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has found that despite assurances from provider the Mears Group in November 2021, many women and their children have not been moved to more suitable housing.

They are currently placed in bedsit accommodation in Glasgow’s Southside, by the Mears Group with no substantial opposition noted from Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP).

Mothers have told the commissioner and his staff that there is no space to feed their babies, limited washing and cooking facilities, and little support. Cookers and heaters in the rooms are close to babies’ cots and it’s not safe to let them play, crawl, or stand.

These conditions pose a significant risk of violating the children’s human rights including the right to survival, safety and development, an adequate standard of living, the best possible health, family life, and the right to play.

A mum who lives in the unit with her child said: “The worst part is knowing my child isn’t safe. I’m in a new country, a new mum, and I don’t have support. I worry about my child far more than I worry about myself”.

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In April 2021, charities and grassroots organisations raised human rights concerns about the unit, formerly used to house single men. In June, the commissioner’s team visited the accommodation and met mums and their children. 

Following discussions with the Mears Group, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), and the HSCP, the commissioner called for the mothers and babies to be rehoused. They also called for Glasgow City Council, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the HSCP to withdraw their support for the Home Office and Mears Group’s placements in the unit.

The report recommends that:

- All mothers and babies in the unit are urgently relocated.

- COSLA and partners must amend procedures to ensure human rights duties of statutory agencies.

- The Scottish Government should legislate to create human rights-based statutory minimum housing standards for children.

- Glasgow City Council, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the HSCP must commit to not approving any asylum accommodation for children that violates their human rights.

Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, said he was “shocked” upon seeing the conditions, calling the accommodation “totally unsuitable” for mothers and babies, especially given their vulnerable status as seeking asylum.

He said: “Asylum accommodation is a reserved matter to Westminster, but use of this unit has been approved by Glasgow City Council and the health board.

“Scottish public bodies have human rights obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and must ensure that all their decisions are consistent with the UNCRC. They could have withheld or withdrawn support and advocated for more suitable accommodation.

“We must make sure all refugee and asylum-seeking children are treated with dignity and respect for their human rights. No child should live in conditions that violate their human rights and the Scottish Government should legislate urgently to create human rights-based statutory minimum housing standards for children”.

Yvonne Blake, co-founder of Migrants Organising for Rights and Empowerment (MORE), said: “All mothers and babies should live in conditions that are conducive to the nurturing of their babies and the mothers’ health and well-being. 

“The unit is wholly unsuitable to have mothers and babies living there, especially during the first year of their lives which is crucial for development. They need to be housed where the mums have support and the children can play. 

“The authorities, including Glasgow City Council, must act on the recommendations in this report and act on the numerous calls by the mothers and supporting groups to rehouse the mothers and babies into suitable accommodation in the community where they have support." 

Graham O’Neill, Policy Manager at Scottish Refugee Council, said: “We echo the commissioner’s call for the women and children to be moved urgently to proper accommodation that is safe and fit for their needs as new mothers, babies and toddlers.  

“Too often, people’s needs are forgotten or neglected within the asylum system. Unfortunately, we are seeing inappropriate and substandard housing being used more often, including long-term stays in what should be very temporary accommodation and an increase in institutional settings such as hotel rooms and army barracks. 

“This is completely inappropriate for people who have fled violent conflicts and are living with the ongoing effects of trauma”.

In response to today’s findings, a spokesperson from Mears stated that service users remaining in the facility will be moved to suitable alternative accommodation by the end of the month, prior to a “review of the future use of the facility”.

They said they acknowledged concerns raised by the report, but that “these findings do not reflect our intentions around the use of the facility”. They added the feedback they had received from the local authority and the Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership had been “generally positive”.

A council spokesperson on behalf of Glasgow City Council and the HSCP said: “It is not the case that the council or Health and Social Care Partnership have given this unit full approval. We do not have a role as the contractual arrangement exists between Mears and the Home Office.

“Whilst Covid has caused delays in moving mothers to date, we understand the remaining mothers in the unit will be moved into alternative accommodation by the end of April”.

However, according to COSLA, it is not uncommon for consultees to raise objections to proposed procurement, and these have always been respected. No procurement has gone ahead contrary to the advice of statutory bodies since the protocol had been in force, said a representative from the Children and Young People's Commissioner.

Furthermore, when pressed on the “generally positive” feedback Mears referred to, the council spokesperson confirmed they provided feedback “in terms of evidence and opinion” that “there have been women and children accommodated who have thrived and benefited from being accommodated in the unit”.