Support sought in asylum housing row

Ministers from the Scottish and UK governments met this week to discuss a row over the proposed eviction of asylum seekers living in Glasgow.

The talks followed proposals from Serco, the company contracted to provide asylum accommodation, to evict hundreds of asylum seekers, changing the locks to properties when residents were out.

The company has since announced a pause on lock changes while it awaits the outcome of legal proceedings.

Through the work of our African Health Project, we have been supporting an increasing number of asylum seekers who are living with HIV.

Ahead of the talks this week, we provided the Scottish Government with case studies highlighting the damaging impact of housing issues on the mental and physical health of our service users, and how this hampers their ability to manage their HIV.

Serco had previously told organisations working with asylum seekers (including Waverley Care) that they would not be changing locks anymore. We have also provided training to Serco staff about HIV awareness and working with people sensitively.

We are therefore deeply concerned by recent developments and are following the situation closely to ensure we can provide the right support to service users.

The following is adapted from one of the case studies we submitted, highlighting the damaging impact that evictions can potentially have for asylum seekers living with HIV (name changed to protect individual’s privacy):

Lana is an asylum seeker who is living with HIV and suffers from poor mental health.

When her asylum claim was rejected, she sought help from refugee support organisations to gather evidence to support a fresh claim.

One day, while Lana was out of her flat, the housing provider that was subcontracted by Serco at the time changed the locks of her accommodation.

It was late afternoon when Lana returned home to find herself locked out, unable to access her belongings, including her HIV medication.

She went to a charity to request help and, with no immediate options available they paid for a night’s accommodation in a hotel.

With housing her main priority, and fearing stigma, Lana did not disclose her HIV status to the charity, meaning that they could not help her to access more medication.

The following day, one of the refugee support organisations she was in touch with helped her arrange temporary accommodation and  liaised with the housing provider to arrange for belongings to be collected.

When Lana arrived at her former home, she was distressed that the provider had packed up her belongings without her being present. Workers had packed away her medication, meaning that her HIV status could have been disclosed without her consent.

Fortunately in this instance, Lana was only without her medication for just over 24 hours, meaning that it would not have a major impact on her health. However, a number of circumstances led to this.

Firstly, she was already linked in to support agencies. Many asylum seekers don’t have this support and, in Lana’s circumstances, would have ended up street homeless without access to medication for a considerable time.

Secondly, her locks were changed in the middle of the week, meaning the issue could be resolved the following day. Had it been a Friday, she would have been without her medication until Monday at the earliest, causing difficulties for her health.

With the support of refugee organisations, Lana was able to submit fresh evidence supporting her asylum bid, which was ultimately successful. She now has a more secure home in Glasgow and can now focus on working towards better health.