There are calls for the closure of a mother and baby unit housing female asylum seekers and their children in Glasgow.
The facility on Pollokshaws Road was formerly a homeless shelter but was decommissioned in 2020 due to it being unsuitable. The unit has since been refurbished but a coalition of charities, grassroots organisations, and legal experts say the rooms remain unsuitably small among other problems.
One resident told the Roof Coalition: “If I put my feet down from the bed, I’m stepping into the kitchen — this is how small it is. The baby cannot play, the baby cannot crawl. We were told that coming here we’d be safe and have space for the baby, but it’s the opposite to that.”
Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner wrote to the facility’s operators, Mears Group, encouraging them to “urgently review the suitability of the accommodation for children” after concerns were raised about its failings.
In January, Mears moved approximately 20 new and expectant mothers seeking asylum into multiple occupancy housing. The Roof Coalition said many of these women were moved from settled accommodation within supportive communities into cramped bedsits with their babies for a year or more.
Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, asked Nicola Sturgeon if she had heard of the Freedom To Crawl campaign “drawing attention to the abysmal standard of accomodation provided by Mears on behalf of the Home Office for asylum seekers who are pregnant or who have babies and toddlers”.
The First Minister said she had “profound and fundamental objections” towards the policies of the UK Home Office “not least the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers in the city of Glasgow”.
The Freedom to Crawl campaign has condemned the Pollokshaws Road unit type of institutional setting to house people in the asylum process.
Meghan O’Neill, senior community organiser with housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland, said: “Housing and social care provider Mears Group have disregarded the standards of housing that we apply to temporary accommodation in Scotland and in doing so are turning their backs on single mothers and their children at a time of crisis.
“There can be no excuse for failing to uphold dignity in the housing system. We are dismayed at the Home Office for again sanctioning agents who show such little regard for the well-being of women and their children who desperately need safe, secure, and suitable accommodation.”
The mother and baby unit was formerly the Quarriers James Shields Project, providing shelter for up to 37 young people between 19 and 25-years-old.
A Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership report stated that there has been “a number of challenges over the years” regarding the building and its layout which was not designed for to house people.
Bruce Adamson, Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, was “made aware of a number of concerns that the current accommodation is unsuitable for children as living there is not in their best interests and is potentially discriminatory”.
Concerns included a lack of space and facilities for children to play or exercise, the closeness of cooking facilities to children’s beds, restrictions on space meaning there is limited opportunities to have contact with other family members, and the communal nature of the accommodation creates an “enhanced risk factor at a time of a national public health crisis”.
Mr Adamson will be going to meet with the mothers in the unit to assess the standards of the accommodation first-hand.
Selina Hales, Founder and CEO of Refuweegee, said: “Yet further evidence in an already long list of failings from asylum housing. There is no excuse for anyone being housed in conditions like those found in the mother and baby unit.
“It is not the first time that accommodation deemed unfit for one is then repurposed and used for those seeking safety in our city. We can only hope that this action will mean it is the last.”
A spokeswoman for Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership said: “We are aware of the mother and baby unit operated in Glasgow by Mears on behalf of the Home Office. We are aware of the concerns noted by the Children’s Commissioner and will continue to work in partnership with all concerned ensuring the safety and well-being of those residing in the unit are thoroughly considered.”
A Mears spokesperson said: “The mother and baby unit provides accommodation that is purpose designed to best meet the needs of mothers and babies, up to one year old, and provide access to healthcare and other support services. It has been developed working closely with Glasgow City Council and Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS who are supportive of the facility.
“All room sizes meet Glasgow City Council guidelines and Home Office guidelines and there are communal areas on site which provide space for socialising and play.
“We are continually reviewing provision and working with health professionals to make sure that we accommodate and support service users only where they advise this is the best provision and in rooms appropriate to their needs.
“We would be pleased to host visits by charities and NGOs to discuss the provision and to show them first hand why this facility is strongly supported by the social workers, midwives and others who support mothers and babies in asylum accommodation. “
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office has worked closely with our providers and Glasgow City Council to develop a dedicated facility to support mothers and babies. It has been purposely designed to meet their needs and complies with all regulatory and statutory requirements, providing access to healthcare and other support services. There is also a dedicated welfare manager on site, who is in close contact with each resident.
“The Government is fulfilling its legal duty to provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with safe and secure accommodation. We are bringing forward a new immigration plan which will make our asylum system fair but firm, supporting vulnerable asylum seekers in need through safe and legal routes.”