Asylum seekers in Belfast have reported problems with their accommodation for years; issues range from poor quality accommodation; lack of adequate heating; ineffective complaint structures; intimidation; constantly being moved; and much more.
These problems are widespread, and have been reported in all of the regions of the UK.
Housing for asylum seekers is provided by the Home Office through a series of contractors and sub-contractors. In Northern Ireland the Northern Ireland Housing Executive subcontracts housing provision and support from Orchard & Shipman who, in turn, subcontract from the main contractor Serco.
Serco and Orchard & Shipman, along with contractors in GB (G4S, Clearsprings, etc) have recently been subject to an investigation by the Home Affairs Committee in Westminster, following allegations in the press of sub-standard housing and intimidation of residents by staff. Evidence submitted by local refugee charity NICRAS states that “85% of individuals [in NASS accommodation] feeling disrespected by the staff.”
When making complaints about sub-standard housing, asylum seekers and their supporters are often told that their housing provision satisfies the conditions outlined in the ‘NASS contract’ (National Asylum Support Service), which stipulates the minimum standards for housing quality and conditions. Yet when attempting to access the contract itself, asylum seekers and advocates have been refused and told that it’s contents are ‘commercially sensitive’.
This summer, Housing4All activists, using freedom of information requests, finally obtained the contract between Orchard & Shipman and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and have been going through it to dig out the minimum standards.
In the interests of transparency and to spread the information as widely as possible, Housing4All have uploaded the contract into a PDF, and we invite asylum seekers, their supporters, and agencies that work for asylum seekers to download it.
As part of this initiative we will be creating an on-line forum for people to write up useful information found in the contract.
To disseminate our findings, we will also be developing rights-based monitoring tools and holding training sessions for asylum seekers and those who work directly with them, training people on how to enforce the terms of the contract and asserting the human rights to housing for asylum seekers.