On Tuesday 8 May a Bradford asylum seeker and her twelve week old baby were given barely a week’s notice by private landlord UPM to quit their home. On Thursday 17th they were transported forty miles to a tiny flat in Doncaster with no cooker, table or chair, and only a tiny sink to wash dishes and clothes.
Campaigners in Bradford and Doncaster supported the mother and engaged with local medical services and the Red Cross, and protested to the UK Border Agency and local authorities.
The protests prompted a Border Agency inspector to visit the Doncaster flat. On Monday the Border Agency declared the flat “contractually non-compliant” and “not suitable in its present state for mothers and babies”. The Border Agency claimed it had instructed UPM to relocate the mother and baby as a matter of urgency. But they remain in the Doncaster flat, marooned 40 miles from anybody they know.
This is the new world of asylum seeker housing controlled by G4S, the world’s biggest security company.
In March G4S won a massive £30 million UK Border Agency contract to house asylum-seekers in the Midlands, the East of England, the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside. Using the “prime contractor model”, which G4S tells investors is “attractive”, the company granted subcontracts to UPM and the charity Migrant Help.
UPM, or United Property Management (slogan “Serve like a charity. Perform like a business”), describes itself as “a market leading provider of accommodation and support services to people from all walks of life.” They’re based just up the road from Manchester’s Victoria Station.
Beatrice Botomani, a worker at Bradford Refugee Action Forum who has coordinated protests and emergency help for the Bradford women and children, said:
“We met UPM at the end of April and they gave a long list of pledges about not taking children out of Bradford and away from social and medical services and schools, and giving adequate notice on removals. Only a few days later they started evictions and removals with less than a week’s notice.
Some of these women and children have been in Bradford for two years or more awaiting decisions on asylum claims. UPM has not told us where people are going and we cannot alert local support services to contact them – many of these people are already traumatised and have fled from terrible conditions in their home lands, UPM is adding to their stresses.”
It seems 35 people have been removed from Bradford. Two are reported to have been sent to Sheffield but asylum group volunteers have been unable to locate them.
For months now I’ve been writing about the takeover of asylum seeker housing by G4S, the world’s biggest security company. I am one of the Yorkshire campaigners who tried to fight off G4S’s bid to run asylum housing here. Our South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group is urging the Border Agency to instruct G4S to cancel the UPM contract. In our view UPM is simply not a fit landlord for the sensitive job of housing asylum seekers.