G4S is the UK's biggest private security company, with its government contracts alone worth over £600 million. Responsible for security services, managing detention centres, prisons, and 675 court and police station holding cells, G4S have also just been granted the £100 million contract for providing 10,000 security guards for the upcoming olympics.

Whilst G4S still seem to be government favourites, their record is far from spotless. The firm lost their previous 'forcible deportation' contract last September after receiving 773 complaints of abuse – both verbal and physical. The final straw came with the death of Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010, an Angolan asylum seeker who died as a result of his forced deportation by G4S guards. Two of the guards are on bail facing criminal charges, whilst G4S is still waiting to hear whether they are to face corporate manslaughter charges.

Now, asylum seekers in Yorkshire and Humberside are expected to accept this multi-national, money-hungry, security company as their landlords.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Our response to G4S' new asylum contracts // SYMAAG

Our group, the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) was appalled that G4S has been awarded the contract to house people seeking asylum in Yorkshire and Humberside. They have no experience of providing housing (unless you count detention centres...) and their experience of dealing with asylum seekers is to detain, deport and abuse them. You'll know that 3 G4S employees are on bail facing manslaughter charges relating to the death of Jimmy Mubenga in 2010. The company as a whole is also waiting to see if it will face corporate manslaughter charges. As one local Zimbabwean asylum seeker put it "I don't want a prison guard as my landlord". Many asylum seekers regard G4S winnig the contract as tantamount to house arrest. One company now houses them, transports them and detains them. With G4S providing security at Baghdad Airport, they could even meet them at the other end...Changing the name from "G4S" to "G4S Care and Justice Services" doesn't change these facts.

Although the contract was signed 3 weeks late and only by the Acting Regional UK Borders Agency Director, we were not surprised they have been awarded £millions of public money. There appeared to us to be a high level of collusion between G4S and Yorkshire and Humberside regional UKBA long before the contract was signed. For example the COMPASS/UKBA Transition Team were in close contact with G4S before even the "due diligence" procedure had finished, whereas the COMPASS transition Team were - by definition - tasked with overseeing the transition from existing to G4S-run accomodation. On first-name terms at meetings. More than once, in meetings with G4S managers, they used the past tense to describe them winning the contract. Apart from possible legal challenges to way the contract has been awarded - what risk assessments were done? are children's rights to be safeguarded? - the widespread campaign against privatising asylum housing will now focus its energies on monitoring the standard of housing provided by a company which has stated "Our primary concern is to ensure a return for our shareholders" (Steven Small, Regional Borders and Immigration G4S director in a meeting with SYMAAG and UKBA on 24/2/12). We would like to see asylum seeker tenants federations - linked to established ones - which can ensure that those people who complain about housing standards are taken seriously and not victimised.

We regard the COMPASS Corporate Partner FAQ document (attached) as completely inadequate (and extremely defensive). Despite COMPASS "aiming", "desiring", "looking to" ensure that:
  • G4S-provided housing will be more than substandard
  • That disruption to children's education will be minimised
  • that the sole criteria of re-housing will not be low cost

It is clear that they have no power to enforce any of these stated aims. In fact, 800 human beings face being uprooted in our region, disrupting lives, education, health provision and community integration. The FAQ document talks about complaints mechanisms but in a meeting with COMPASS and G4S management, both agencies made it clear that they regarded anonymised complaints as akin to anecdotes. The fact that they cannot understand why an asylum seeker might want to anonymise their complaint speaks volumes about their utter lack of understanding of the people they aim to house.

Finally, part of the reason that our campaign against G4S in Yorkshire has gained so much momentum is that many people realise their bid to manage asylum housing is a stepping stone to the more lucrative social housing market. Privatisation isn't popular in Yorkshire but solidarity with the underdog is. Evicting and dealing with asylum tenants (who have no tenants rights) is a useful trial run for managing tenants in social housing in future. Like we've always said: "first they come for the asylum seeker..."

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