Mothers and babies seeking asylum in Scotland are still being housed in cramped and unsafe conditions that pose a significant risk of violating their human rights, according to a new report.
The office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has found that despite assurances from provider the Mears Group in November 2021, many women and their children have not been moved to more suitable housing.
They are currently placed in bedsit accommodation in Glasgow’s southside, by the Mears Group with full approval of Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership (HSPC). Mothers have told the Commissioner and his staff that there is no space to feed their babies, limited washing and cooking facilities, and little support. Cookers and heaters in the rooms are close to babies’ cots and it’s not safe to let them play, crawl, or stand.
These conditions pose a significant risk of violating the children’s human rights, including the right to survival, safety and development; an adequate standard of living; the best possible health; family life, and the right to play.
In April 2021, charities and grassroots organisations raised human rights concerns about the unit, formerly used to house single men. In June, the Commissioner’s team visited the accommodation and met mums and their children.
Following discussions with the Mears Group, COSLA, and the HSPC, the Commissioner called for the mothers and babies to be rehoused and for Glasgow City Council, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the HSCP to withdraw their support for the Home Office and Mears Group’s placements in the unit.
A mum who lives in the unit with her child said: “The worst part is knowing my child isn’t safe. I’m in a new country, a new mum, and I don’t have support. I worry about my child far more than I worry about myself.”
Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, said: “I was shocked when the mothers in the unit showed me the conditions they are living in with their babies. This accommodation is totally unsuitable for mothers and babies, particularly those who have the added vulnerability of seeking asylum.
“Asylum accommodation is a reserved matter to Westminster, but use of this unit has been approved by Glasgow City Council and the health board. Scottish public bodies have human rights obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and must ensure that all their decisions are consistent with the UNCRC. They could have withheld or withdrawn support and advocated for more suitable accommodation.
“We must make sure all refugee and asylum-seeking children are treated with dignity and respect for their human rights. No child should live in conditions that violate their human rights and the Scottish Government should legislate urgently to create human rights-based statutory minimum housing standards for children.”
The Mears Group advised the Commissioner’s office in November that the unit would be repurposed for single people only – but they have failed to move all the babies and their mothers to more appropriate accommodation.
Mr Hobbs added: “We want the Mears Group to urgently relocate all the mothers and babies in this unit to suitable accommodation in Glasgow. They must also be given the support they need for that relocation and helped to integrate into their new communities. We also want the council, the health board, and HSPC to make a commitment to not approve asylum accommodation for children that violates their human rights.”
Yvonne Blake, co-founder of Migrants Organising for Rights and Empowerment (MORE), said: “All mothers and babies should live in conditions that are conducive to the nurturing of their babies and the mothers’ health and well-being.
“The unit is wholly unsuitable to have mothers and babies living there, especially during the first year of their lives which is crucial for development. They need to be housed where the mums have support and the children can play.
“The authorities, including Glasgow City Council, must act on the recommendations in this report and act on the numerous calls by the mothers and supporting groups to rehouse the mothers and babies into suitable accommodation in the community where they have support.”
Graham O’Neill, Policy Manager at Scottish Refugee Council said: “We echo the Commissioner’s call for the women and children to be moved urgently to proper accommodation that is safe and fit for their needs as new mothers, babies and toddlers.
“Too often, people’s needs are forgotten or neglected within the asylum system. Unfortunately, we are seeing inappropriate and substandard housing being used more often, including long-term stays in what should be very temporary accommodation and an increase in institutional settings such as hotel rooms and army barracks. This is completely inappropriate for people who have fled violent conflicts and are living with the ongoing effects of trauma.”
Amanda Purdie, Head of Strategy and Public Affairs at Amma Birth Companions, said: “It is crucial that every parent and child in Scotland is supported to experience positive mental health and wellbeing throughout the perinatal period. We remain deeply concerned that the physical, social, and mental wellbeing of both mothers and babies in this unit is suffering as a direct consequence of their living environment.
“We hope the findings of this report will incite swift action from Mears and all relevant authorities – not only to relocate current residents to suitable accommodation, but also to ensure that no child in Scotland is again placed within an environment that violates their human rights.”
Following the report, the Commissioner recommends that:
- All mother and babies in the unit are urgently relocated
- COSLA and partners must amend procedures to ensure human rights duties of statutory agencies
- The Scottish Government should legislate to create human rights-based statutory minimum housing standards for children
- Glasgow City Council, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the HSCP must commit to not approving any asylum accommodation for children that violates their human rights
NOTES TO EDITORS
- In line with the Commissioner’s statutory functions, we examined the situation at the mother and baby accommodation through a children’s human rights lens, with a view to “assessing the adequacy and effectiveness of… law, policy and practice”; and in order to “promote best practice by service providers”.