IF the true measure of a society is found in how it treats its most vulnerable members then the UK must be found truly wanting when it comes to asylum seekers. 

Dumping human beings onto a “failed asylum seeker” scrap heap may ease the conscience of those with xenophobia, but it’s a lie that reeks at the heart of the UK’s hostile environment.

Hostility is targeted at asylum seekers but also anyone who is poor or entitled to social security benefits. The system becomes a stick in which to make life intolerable for those the state deems unworthy. The undeserving poor; the underserving asylum seeker. It’s an age-old story. 

We scapegoat great swathes of people because we’re told we need someone to blame. Brexit is a manifestation of this.

Let’s blame EU migrant workers for society’s growing inequality despite the fact it’s the product of a decade of UK Government austerity. At least people still have their rights. If you are homeless you have a right to either temporary accommodation or a permanent tenancy; if you are unable to work, you have the right to social security benefits. 

Accessing these rights often requires a struggle but you can and will win because the law is ultimately on your side.

What happens when the law isn’t on your side? This month Scotland’s highest civil court held that Serco – a private company acting on the UK Government’s behalf – was entitled to take the law into its own hands and evict “failed asylum seekers” without a court order. 

A person may have lived in their home for a year or two, but Serco was legally entitled to pop round and change your locks.

Serco first launched its lock-change policy last July and advised that it intended to apply it to 330 people in Glasgow. 

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Back then almost a third of those affected were actually refugees – successful asylum seekers. Now the overall number of people affected has dropped to around 150 because many “failed asylum seekers” have since obtained refugee status.

Therein lies the rub. People who face lock-change evictions aren’t a homogeneous group of “failed asylum seekers”. Claiming asylum is an arduous process that requires evidence that isn’t easy to get if you have fled your home to avoid being tortured or murdered. It can take time, yet the system is designed to put you off and categorise you as a failed asylum seeker. The 2014 Immigration Act only added to that hostile environment.

This week I will be lodging an application to Scotland’s highest civil court for our client at Govan Law Centre seeking permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court in London. As the law now stands in Scotland, if the UK Government or any public authority outsources some of its functions to a private company, the acts of those companies aren’t subject to the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Being able to effectively “contract-out” of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is truly worrying. We need to challenge this in the UK Supreme Court. There are far reaching and unintended consequences from this ruling.

Likewise, we need to challenge the principle that companies like Serco can take the law into their own hands and evict people by changing their locks. 

It’s a recipe for disaster because DIY evictions are a free-for-all without regulation. 

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There are no rules on timing, notice of ejection, no sheriff officers and no police involvement. No-one should ever be forced to be destitute and sleep rough in Scotland.

Article 3 of the ECHR prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment of human beings. The late Lord Bingham had no hesitation in holding in a leading case that article 3 may be breached if a person was “denied shelter, food or the most basic necessities of life”. 

Minimum standards have improved in the 21st century, and Tom Bingham said that degrading treatment didn’t have to equate to “your mountainish inhumanity” as described by Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More.

Everyone should be treated with dignity in our society. The fact that asylum seekers are banned from getting a job to support themselves makes no sense whatsoever, unless you are a politician who supports the UK hostile environment. 

In Glasgow, we need leadership. Glasgow City Council has general social welfare powers to prevent human beings from being destitute and street homeless – they set those out in their asylum seeker task force report earlier this year.

Why not use them? Why not be bold. A default position of it’s very complicated and all the UK Government’s fault might be true but helps no-one in our city. 

The council’s hands are not tied. Time to step up to the plate and prevent a humanitarian crisis as Serco carries out its lock-change programme.