Fears grow over asylum seeker housing run by ‘prison guards’

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LEADING Yorkshire academics have expressed concern over plans by the UK Border Agency to award a contract for managing social housing for asylum seekers to the same security firm that runs immigrant detention centres and forced deportations.

In a letter in today’s Yorkshire Post, 28 academics from the region’s universities claim hundreds of families will be displaced miles from their communities and “intimidated and threatened” by private landlords working for “prison guard” company G4S.

The private security firm – which patrols airports, prisons and sports venues the world over – is the front-runner to become landlord to hundreds of asylum seekers’ homes across Yorkshire by the end of this month.

It is part of a national contract worth £135m, which will be shared between three private firms – G4S, SERCO and Reliance – as local authorities struggle to find the money to continue managing social housing for those seeking British citizenship.

The letter raises concerns about G4S’s record in handling asylum seekers, claiming that in 2010, 773 complaints were lodged against them, including 48 claims of assault.

Three of the company’s security guards are still under investigation for the death of Angolan Jimmy Mubenga as he was being deported in 2010.

It reads: “Asylum seeker tenants already feel intimidated and threatened by the prospect of prison guard companies being installed as their managing landlords.

“Asylum seekers in social housing are fleeing from persecution and violence and can only have tenancies if they are in the process of applying for or appealing cases for sanctuary.

“They are not ‘criminals’ who deserve prison guards as their landlords but families and individuals claiming their rights under international treaties signed by the UK on our behalf.”

As well as being responsible for security at the London Olympics Games as part of a £100m deal, G4S earns £600m from the Government to run four prisons, three immigration removal centres and 675 court and police cells.

One of the signatories, John Grayson, an academic at Sheffield Hallam University, presented a petition to Sheffield City Council on Wednesday, urging them to think again about awarding the contract to G4S.

Two regional demonstrations have been planned for outside Sheffield Town Hall on February 15 and March 1.

Mr Grayson said: “Sheffield has always been a ‘City of Sanctuary’ for asylum seekers.

“These are people who are in the process of claiming asylum or those who are appealing. These are not failed asylum seekers who should go home.”

Stuart Crosthwaite, secretary of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, said: “When our group discussed this issue, the response of our asylum-seeking members was horror and disbelief.

“The only possible reason that we can see for G4S winning this contract is by undercutting current housing providers. But what control do asylum seekers and the general public have over the quality of this housing provision?

“After all, it is our money that’s subsidising G4S, the biggest company on the London Stock Exchange.”

A spokeswoman for G4S said the firm would be working with local authorities and existing asylum landlords to provide housing.

“We take the welfare of the people in our care very seriously.

“As with other public sector contracts we run, will be delivering services entirely through a supply chain of experienced housing providers, which includes local private and voluntary sector housing organisations.

“Our focus will be to ensure that asylum seekers can be integrated into local communities and into housing which is safe, sanitary and fit for purpose.”

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: “These contracts will help deliver a service which meets the needs of asylum seekers and offers value for money with estimated savings of more than £150m over seven years.”

Letters: Page 12