Refugee campaigners are calling for assurances that dawn raids will not be used as a “de facto eviction” tactic by the Home Office against asylum seekers who were granted emergency housing as a result of the pandemic.
The concern was raised by those supporting a 67-year-old man who was the target of an early morning immigration enforcement operation – known as a dawn raid – on 28 April in Glasgow.
Scottish Refugee Council said that he, along with hundreds of people living in Glasgow, was granted emergency accommodation on public health grounds when Covid-19 prevented travel last March.
The man claims he fled to the UK after receiving death threats for attempting to prevent the forced marriage of his daughter by “criminals” in their community in Pakistan. But the family’s case was refused by the Home Office.
He has since launched a fresh asylum appeal, but Scottish Refugee Council fear it was his insecure immigration status that triggered the raid.
‘Offensive’ dawn raids
Early last Friday morning about eight immigration enforcement offficers came to his home intending to detain him. He had a panic attack and was taken to hospital, where he was later picked up by Maryhill Integration Network staff.
Scottish Refugee Council said up to 300 people granted emergency housing during the pandemic could be evicted and made street homeless this summer. Now the charity is seeking urgent assurances that no others affected would be subjected to dawn raids as Covid-19 restrictions lift.
Graham O’Neill, policy manager for Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) said: “We are deeply concerned that these raids have the potential to work as de facto evictions from [asylum] accommodation. We must resist a new front of asylum eviction by immigration raids.
“What makes last Friday’s raid particularly offensive is that it was perpetrated against people seeking refugee protection, who are known to the Home Office, and in Home Office asylum accommodation. There is no basis, neither ethically nor in immigration law, for enforcement teams to be in asylum accommodation.”
Activists have already raised fears the controversial practice, understood to have been discontinued after sustained campaigning, is indicative of new tougher immigration policies proposed by the Home Office. Consultation on the this closes on 6 May.
On 28 April eight SNP MPs wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel to condemn the “immoral practice” and seek assurances it would be discontinued.
O’Neill’s call was backed by Anne McLaughlin MP, SNP spokesperson for immigration, who said: “I think that Scottish Refugee Council is right to raise this as a concern. I spoke in a parliamentary debate on Monday about asylum accommodation in hotels, in barracks, in mother and baby units and the slide towards institutionalising it.
“I think the intention is pretty clear that the Home Office doesn’t want people in homes and communities – it wants asylum seekers in institutional accommodation. But Glasgow people will fight back.”
Dawn raids came to prominence in the mid 2000s when a group of teenage girls from Drumchapel High School – known as the Glasgow Girls – spearheaded a campaign to stop the practice after their friend Agnesa Murselaj and her family were dawn raided and detained.
Early morning watches – led by local women Jean Donnachie and Noreen Real – were organised at the Kingsway flats, where many asylum seekers were housed with community volunteers rising early to keep watch for the immigration enforcement vans.
Though occasional immigration raids have persisted, and asylum seekers are still subject to detention at Home Office reporting visits and interviews, it was thought that the practice of dawn raids was no longer used in Scotland.
McLaughlin admitted she was worried about proposed reforms to the asylum system.
“More importantly other asylum seekers are worried,” she said. “I’ve had several on the phone asking my case workers to guarantee that won’t happen to them. And the awful thing is that I can’t. What I can say is that I’m not going to let this issue drop.”
In England the Home Office has started evictions of asylum seekers who have been refused asylum. On 23 April, Chris Philp, the minister for future borders and immigration, wrote to English local authorities informing them that “with immediate effect” officials will be reviewing and processing cases for possible cessation of Home Office support, the Guardian has reported.
As yet no evictions have been carried out in Scotland.
Pinar Aksu, a campaigner who raised the alarm after being contacted by Maryhill Integration Network’s Voices group after the raid, said she was deeply concerned.
“If we start seeing this happening to others it would be absolutely horrifying,” added Asku who is organising a second protest on the issue on 1 May. “In England they have started evictions and we understand that Mears will start to clear the hotels at the end of May and June.
“That could mean people being left destitute. The thought that any of those people could be detained is really scary. We will fight to bring these brutal practices to an end.”
One Pakistani woman, who knows the dawn raided family, said the return of raids had sent shock waves across the community.
“It’s our Ramadan just now and we are praying and fasting,” she said. “For the Home Office to come at such a time early in the morning is even more upsetting. [The man] called me from the hospital and I couldn’t imagine how he felt. It’s horrible.”
In recent months she has been granted leave to remain but she said the incident triggered memories of her own seven month detention with her husband, when their claims were “fast tracked”, or considered in detention.
“I was pregnant and I was put on a charter flight while my solicitor was still working on my case,” she said. “In the end he got word from the High Court and my flight was cancelled. I think this situation reminds me of what happened. It’s unfair.”
Scottish Greens councillor and lead candidate for Glasgow Kim Long, who attended the protest outside the Home Office in Glasgow last week condemned dawn raids as “an appalling, traumatising practice”.
She added: “There is no possible justification for them to be used in our city.
“Glasgow will fight back as it did before, we will resist dawn raids and evictions on our friends and neighbours and stand up to the UK Government’s horrendous immigration policy.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, failed asylum seekers have had accommodation and financial assistance provided at the expense of the taxpayer as they have been unable to travel home.
“As restrictions ease and it becomes possible once again for failed asylum seekers to return, it is right that we start to withdraw this support.
“A full risk assessment and consideration of any vulnerabilities is taken before any enforcement visit, but those who have no right to remain in the UK and do not return home voluntarily should be in no doubt of our determination to remove them.
“Our New Plan for Immigration will reform the broken asylum system, allowing us to welcome people through safe and legal routes, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.”
Cover image thanks to Susanna Hotham and Toni