Human Rights

Serco plays Santa

It is the multi-national accused of providing slum-like, overcrowded accommodation to refugees.

But now Serco, which provides flats to asylum seekers across Glasgow under a £60 million Home Office contract, claims it it showing its kinder side by putting on a Santa’s grotto event for refugee children.

Complaints about Serco sparked a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry earlier this year with refugee charities, support groups and politicians claiming the company, which has just taken over its subcontractor Orchard &Shipman, had staged illegal evictions, employed bullying tactics and provided unacceptable living conditions. Serco refutes the charges.

But last week, Serco, which is run by Winston Churchill’s grandson Rupert Soames, announced it would invite families to meet Santa at an event held in Govan for two hours tomorrow.

Housing officers have informed people while carrying out flat inspections, as well as texting and phoning.

Local charities have been asked to put up posters advertising the event, with some speculating that Soames himself might don the Santa suit. However others said that the invite felt like a tasteless gesture.

The announcement coincided with the publication of a new report by the Asylum Housing Support(ASH) project, which highlighted criticisms, some of which already raised in its submission to a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into asylum accommodation.

It found that although “most” refugees surveyed said everything worked in their flats when they moved in, only half said they were clean.

One in three said they were “happy” or “very happy” with their flats but a further third were “unhappy” or “very unhappy” with conditions.

Shafiq Mohammad said: “Our report shows some positives but generally it underlines that housing problems for asylum seekers are an ongoing issue.What came through was a culture of disrespect and an aggressive approach.
“In light of this sending a Santa seems like pathetic window dressing.

“We ask Serco Santa to treat asylum seekers with respect and dignity and to provide them with humane living conditions.”

Anne McLaughlin MP, whose evidence to the asylum accommodation inquiry highlighted six families’ cases of severe overcrowding and other issues, said that employing a Santa seemed like a cynical move.

She added: “Most children can hope to expect Santa to come down their chimney at Christmas time. Asylum seeker children can expect something else.

“Insecure and unsafe accommodation, where there is no heating despite repeated repair requests or, Serco contract staff arriving unannounced, neither respecting the privacy or dignity of families, some of whom are very vulnerable.

“It would be more fitting if Serco used this opportunity to address the outstanding concerns raised about people living in unacceptably poor conditions and meeting the contract timescales and other responsibilities for which they are paid handsomely.”

Pauline Diamond Salim, of Scottish Refugee Council, said: “This is a kind gesture from Serco as it will be many refugee children’s first Christmas here in Scotland. But what refugee families really need for Christmas is a safe, secure place to live and we hope this will be Serco’s top priority for the new year.”

Jenni Halliday Serco’s Contract Director for COMPASS said: “It is reasonable to say that this is a kind gesture and also that it is not an either/or situation. We will work to ensure the accommodation meets all the required standards as well as providing a Santa.”

She also welcomed “constructive comments” made by the ASH report, which she claimed acknowledged Serco‘s “very serious attempts to improve the quality of the support provided” to refugees.

Also published on Medium.

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