Red doors, wrist bands, roach infested flats

Ceiling collapses onto bed in a Glasgow flat

News this week of recently-arrived refugees being treated shamefully by private sector housing providers is deeply worrying, as are reports of multiple instances of people being put up in substandard accommodation in Scotland and across the UK.

These reports are starting to pile up now: red doors, wrist bands, roach infested flats, broken hot water and heating systems, blood spattered walls and no locks on front doors.

For those of us working with refugees in the UK these reports are nothing new. Community and voluntary groups, certainly in Glasgow, regularly do their best to help people with broken windows and collapsed ceilings. We can try to patch things up, though of course none of this should be happening in the first place. What we can't repair is the lack of dignity shown to people at a terrible time in their lives.

The most disturbing accounts in this week's news are allegations of housing staff treating refugees with an abject lack of respect. Past and current housing officers have testified to multiple cases of degrading and dehumanising treatment of refugees and described what sounds like a culture of intimidation where people are frightened to object to or draw attention to problems. One woman from central Africa told the Times:

"You are scared to complain because they have the power to take away your home and money."

Most refugees housed by government-funded accommodation providers arrive in the UK exhausted, disorientated and afraid. They enter the UK asylum system in a state of deep anxiety: will this country protect me and keep my children safe?

This deep rooted insecurity is being exploited and exacerbated by housing officers' contemptuous and abusive treatment.

None of us should stand for this.

Let's not forget that the companies at the center of this scandal are funded by millions of pounds of public money to provide accommodation.

These companies must be held to account for the service they are contracted and funded to deliver.

Public outrage and disgust is building at the accumulated testimonies of degrading and dehumanising behaviour on the part of housing providers. It's time now for an independent investigation and a parliamentary inquiry into these accommodation contracts. There has to be a better way.







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