A private firm evicting hundreds of asylum seekers from their homes in Scotland’s largest city has been condemned over its plans to exhibit at a controversial arms trade show.
Serco, which holds a Home Office contract to house about 300 people in Glasgow, has dozens of defence contracts around the world.
The multinational will be touting for business at DSEI 2019 arms fair next month in London’s ExCeL arena.
Serco sparked controversy this year over plans to change locks on the homes of unsuccessful asylum seekers, with hundreds of people facing homelessness in the coming weeks.
Many tenants fled conflict to seek sanctuary in Scotland but despite protests and live legal challenges, Serco has started evictions.
DSEI arms fair is a bi-annual event that brings together hundreds of firms with military delegations.
Serco is a major partner of the Ministry of Defence and provides services for Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets, among other contracts.
Both aircraft have been used by a Saudi-led coalition accused of scores of war crimes in the civil war by proxy in Yemen.
Serco’s website says the firm has 70 defence contracts in the UK and Europe alone, including a deal with the Belgian armed forces.
It also has contracts with the Australian navy and Australian defence force, and last year won an £18m training contract with the US army.
Serco’s website claims the firm has “breadth and depth of expertise across all military environments, including space, maritime, land, and air”. Last year its operating profit rose 40 per cent to £80.5m.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission was last month given leave to intervene in a legal challenge against evicting asylum seekers denied the right to stay in the United Kingdom.
The case – Ali v Serco and the Home Secretary – opposes Serco’s Glasgow lock change programme and argues that eviction would be unlawful without a court order. It was dismissed in April but is now being appealed.
Graham O’Neill, Policy Manager at Scottish Refugee Council said he aware of at least three people who have been “victims of Serco’s lock-change policy in Glasgow, with hundreds at risk over the coming weeks”.
He added: “This policy is being executed in wilful ignorance of the fact that there are live legal proceedings on the lawfulness of this policy, in Scotland’s highest civil court, due for hearing within weeks. Serco are a mass outsourcing company, delivering multiple immigration and defence-related contracts on behalf of governments, most notably the UK state, and their interests are therefore wedded to those governments.
“In Glasgow, they are contracted to provide housing to thousands of highly vulnerable people who have fled war and terror across the world, in countries such as Syria, Iran and Eritrea,” O’Neill continued.
“That they are attending the arms fair whilst actively evicting this marginalised group, despite live legal proceedings on whether such is lawful, indicates that they value defence and immigration contracts and profit, over people.”
That Serco seeks to profit from conflict while also earning income from the refugees displaced by those very conflicts throws into sharp focus the mercenary exploitation of unscrupulous capitalism. Paul Sweeney, Labour MP
Labour and Co-operative MP for Glasgow North East, Paul Sweeney, said: “This bitter irony exposes the amorality of big business. That Serco seeks to profit from conflict while also earning income from the refugees displaced by those very conflicts throws into sharp focus the mercenary exploitation of unscrupulous capitalism.
“It is a crass move that will stick in the throats of the thousands of Glaswegians who stand shoulder to shoulder with the asylum seekers Serco is in the process of throwing out on the street. It’s time to end the profiteering of these companies from human misery and from what should be state-run public services.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade in Scotland accused Serco of “hypocrisy” and said it planned to protest outside DSEI.
“This completely exposes the ruthless business model of Serco. A company that is selling warfare solutions in one hand, and condemning people seeking asylum to street homelessness with the other, is not one the UK Home Office should support and work with. We will be at DSEI protesting this gross hypocrisy,” CAAT said.
A spokesperson for campaign group No Evictions said: “Everyday in the last year we have been disgusted by Serco and the Home Office with their campaign of intimidation they force on asylum seekers. The pain, distress, and trauma their relentless threat of eviction creates has motivated us to put up a stand against Serco in our own neighbourhoods.
“We are calling on the city to prepare for mass protests and civil disobedience to defend our neighbours, friends and families who will be punished by Serco’s brutal actions. The time of government contracts which deliberately deny people human rights is over.”
Serco will be exhibiting at Stand SHD at DESI 2019 which is a section for buyers interested in: “Air Platforms & Equipment, Naval Platforms & Equipment, Ships, Radar, Space, Unmanned Systems.”
As an international company with both civil and military space and defence expertise, we are proud to be a leading service provider in this exciting sector. Serco statement
Serco’s statement on the DESI website says: “As an international company with both civil and military space and defence expertise, we are proud to be a leading service provider in this exciting sector.”
A Serco spokesman told The Ferret: “Serco will have a small stand at DSEi exhibition in London this year to promote our civil space business.”
Arms firms can strike secret deals with oppressive regimes at DSEI and nations accused of war crimes such as Saudi Arabia will be guests of the UK Government.
There are at least 38 companies with bases in Scotland also attending DSEI 2019.They include arms firms Chemring, Leonardo MW and Raytheon whose smart bombs made in Fife have been linked to alleged war crimes in Yemen.
A shorter version of this story was published by the Sunday Mail on 18 August 2019.